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Off and running: 65 percent of public school students begin new year at home

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Wednesday marked the first day of school for students in the Baldwin County School District. For almost two-thirds of those students, however, there was no return to school, no meeting new classmates and no becoming acclimated to new classrooms.

Out of the roughly 4,800 students enrolled in the Baldwin County School District to begin the 2020-2021 school year, a total of 65 percent are “remote learners” and enrolled in the Baldwin Online Academy, which is the cyber school that turns three years old this year. Each of those students, whether kindergarteners or 12th graders, has been equipped with a laptop computer and sign-in information into the Online Academy.

The Baldwin County School District was ahead of the curve, in terms of cyber academies. While many neighboring school districts were scrambling to launch cyber academies in time for this school year, Baldwin County already was in year No. 3.

“We’ve actually been approached by administrators from other districts in our area and giving advice to those districts,” Superintendent Noris Price said. “It’s been extremely beneficial for us.”

The Baldwin Bulletin conducted a wide-ranging interview with Price earlier this week, and here are some of the takeaways:

QUESTION: What will in-person instruction look like?

ANSWER: Elementary school classes will be limited to 15-20 students, middle school classes 18-20 and high school classes 20-25. The classrooms will not be equipped with any plastic dividers or partitions, at least not to begin the school year. Price said that those items are in high demand and that there’s a problem on the supply side. Within the next few months, however, Price said that the school system hopes to purchase the necessary amount of dividers and install them in classrooms.

QUESTION: Are face masks mandatory?

ANSWER: After much discussion, the School Board decided to make face masks mandatory for both students and employees.

“Everyone who steps foot on any of our campuses will be required to wear a face mask,” Price said.

QUESTION: Will the school system self-report COVID-19 cases and make that information public?

ANSWER: Price said that the district currently is in the process of developing a system for self-reporting cases and posting the case numbers to its website. Those case numbers would include both students and employees.

QUESTION: When would the School Board pull the plug on in-person classes and make everything “remote?”

ANSWER: Price said that that decision would be based on a formula, some combination of new cases within the schools and new cases in the larger Milledgeville-Baldwin County community.

This is already happening in some other counties in Georgia. Cherokee County, a bedroom community of Atlanta, already has temporarily closed three different high schools, and students and employees at those schools currently are in quarantine.