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Schools could remain virtual all year

ANDREW EDWARDS

The Lowndes County School System has been completely virtual since their Aug. 26 start date.  The initial recommendation by Superintendent Jason Burroughs this past summer was to only have the first nine weeks made virtual.

However, after noticing the upward trend of positive COVID cases across the county, and analyzing parent data, the Lowndes County Board of Education decided that it would be best to extend all-virtual-schooling into the next nine weeks as well. Those nine weeks end on Jan. 20.

Therefore, not a single student in Lowndes County will have stepped foot into an in-person classroom in over nine months.

That begs the question: will these students have the option to attend in-person school at all this year? Burroughs isn’t sold on the idea.

“If I had the ability to make the decision today, I would say that schools would remain virtual for the rest of the year,” Burroughs said.

But that decision won’t be made today. In fact, it won’t be made until the Jan. 14 county board of education meeting.

“We want to continue to see where the data goes, and then make an accurate decision based off of that,” Burroughs said.

Currently, Lowndes County is considered a “high-risk” area, which is one of the reasons that the school system decided to extend all-virtual teaching.

“Virtual learning has been successful for us so far. I know there’s people out there that want students in seats, but we have follow protocols and watch the trends over the next several weeks before we make a decision about the rest of the year,” Burroughs said.

This week, Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statement encouraging school systems to return to in-person learning.

“Due to COVID-19, 2020 has been an extremely challenging year for everyone, especially for our parents, teachers and students,” she said. “I’m extremely grateful for the flexibility everyone has shown as they have adapted to virtual instruction. However, virtual and remote instruction are stop-gap measures to prevent our students from regressing academically during the pandemic. These practices cannot — and should not — become a permanent part of instructional delivery system in 2021. As we are learning more about COVID-19, we are seeing more and more clear evidence pointing out that our students are safe in the classroom with strong health protocols in place.

“There are nearly 9,800 fewer students enrolled statewide in this academic year and a five percent reduction in students on the kindergarten level. This will not only result in a critical learning loss for our students today but will also likely lead to an equally negative impact on the readiness of our workforce in years to come. Additionally, it could have an equally important economic loss that affects the critical funding for our classrooms and teacher units.

“As we begin the holiday season and contemplate a return to a normalcy in 2021, I strongly urge our education leadership on both the state and local levels to return to in-person instruction as soon as possible.”