MARIETTA — Marietta City Schools will continue to have a virtual option for students this fall, but that option will look different this time around, district leaders say.
Students who choose to learn virtually will have a more limited selection of classes, unlike this year, where all courses are available in-person and online, Deputy Superintendent Belinda Walters-Brazile told school board members Tuesday. Students will be asked to make longer-term commitments to virtual or in-person learning to help the district schedule classes — nine weeks for elementary school students and a semester for middle and high schoolers.
At the high school level, 58 classes have been identified for virtual learning. Course credit options called “menu boards” for art, music and physical education are already being built, Walters-Brazile said.
“This was just to kind of let you know, hey, we’re not sleeping on this issue. We know it’s big and we’re working on it,” she said.
Superintendent Grant Rivera told the MDJ the more selective virtual class offerings will be based on what will work well for students. Classes like construction, for example, need a hands-on element to be effective.
“We believe we can offer virtual courses that will be quality in these areas,” he said.
Schools will also be organized differently based on parents’ choices for in-person and virtual learning. In elementary schools, where in-person attendance is very high at some schools, schools may share teachers to teach virtual classes.
Currently, middle and high school teachers give in-person and virtual instruction at the same time. Next year, teachers will largely do one or the other, but not both, Walters-Brazile said.
Rivera said a priority is to take care of teachers and reduce the number teaching both in-person and virtual. He also wants to give families more information ahead of time about their options for next year than they had last year.
“Families have experienced so much whiplash and so many surprises and so many 11th-hour decisions,” he said. “What we know now is that in August 21, we do not expect to have a vaccine for students. We understand that could be a critical variable for families who are trying to decide whether their students should attend in-person or not. And what we want to do is engage families in the discussion through town halls, through very detailed conversations where we really start to differentiate by group and by need and by level, so families can make an informed decision, and we can put everybody on a path of success come August 2021.”
Parents will soon be able to weigh in and learn more about the plans for next school year through a series of online town halls for different grade levels. Rivera said dates will be announced later this week, but the first one is expected to be in the first week of March. Another town hall is planned specifically for parents interested in the virtual option.
The school board also voted to extend $1,000 bonuses for educators promised by Gov. Brian Kemp to all district employees. The vote was 6-0, with school board member Allison Gruehn absent.
The governor recently announced that teachers and other school-level staff would be receiving a one-time $1,000 bonus paid for through the federal CARES Act. The state Board of Education is expected to approve the funds in March or April. As soon as that happens, Marietta will issue matching bonuses to all of its other staff, mainly those at the district office, an estimated 175 of its 1,275 employees.
Also at the meeting, board members approved:
♦ An agreement with Peachtree Immediate Care to continue providing COVID-19 testing on school district property. Testing through the Centers for Disease Control ended with the CDC’s partnership with the district. According to MCS, $35,000 in private funding will cover the cost of tests for students who are uninsured.
♦ Purchasing tents for up to $40,771 to promote socially-distanced eating outside, and for outdoor classroom space at all schools.
♦ Purchasing an 84-passenger bus for $121,099, with state bus bond funds and sales tax revenue.
♦ Purchasing a maintenance truck with towing capacity for $63,814, with sales tax dollars.
♦ Renewal of Trend Micro Antivirus software for use on all district-issued devices, for $79,650.
♦ An open letter on Black History Month and the recently completed renovation of Lemon Street Elementary School. The letter also ran in the MDJ.