Schools across the county making plans to return to classes

Published 9:14 am Friday, July 17, 2020

As summer days pass, the start of schools across Kentucky, and across Bell County, grows closer. Three area school districts are making plans to return to classes, and all are doing so with the best interest of students in mind as they make plans.


Bell County School District

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Bell County Superintendent Tom Gambrel said currently students in his district are set to return to classes on Aug. 6, however he is working to have that date changed.

I will ask the board to change our start date at the July 21 regular scheduled board meeting,” Gambrel said. “I am asking that we postpone the start until Aug. 25 for the first day for students.”

Gambrel said there will be options for students to attend classes in person, as well as a virtual option for those whose parents are not comfortable with their attendance considering the current health situation.

“We are able to help in certain situations for internet access, but there are areas in the county that cannot be connected to high speed internet at this time. In those situations, we will try and work with those students to help them to be able to work remotely if possible,” Gambrel said.

He added that the district has ordered more than 2,000 Chromebooks for students to use. He said a large number of handheld no-touch thermometers have also been ordered.

“We are installing walk-by temperature scanners in every building that everyone will have to walk past to get in the school,” he said. “We have equipped our custodial staff with new fogger-type sanitizers. We have ordered enough masks for our students to have five, and they can wash and reuse them.”

For fall sports, Gambrel said the district will follow guidelines sent down from the Kentucky High School Athletic Association and health officials.

“With a recent spike in cases, I got in contact with our local health official to make sure we were OK with continuing our current conditioning program. I don’t have the answers for what the 2020-2021 seasons will look like,” he said. “I am hopeful that our student athletes, and our academic teams and skill teams are able to return to regular competition as soon as possible. Our students and coaches work very hard to be great at what they do. My heart was broken for those that didn’t get to finish the year last year.”

Gambrel said his district will be sharing a survey to see if parents are comfortable in sending their students to the classroom, or if they prefer a virtual option. He said the information gathered will help the district’s team determine what options should be offered with the beginning of school. He asked that parents check district outlets for the survey link, and if they are not able to access it, he said they should contact the Bell County Board of Education at 606-337-7051, and someone will record their response.


Pineville Independent School District

Russell Thompson is superintendent of Pineville Independent School District, and he said classes are scheduled to start with the first day for students being Aug. 25.

“Obviously it’s a fluid situation, and we will be waiting on more communication from the department of education and Gov. Beshear’s office, but we have been working, our administrative team has been working on a plan that will allow for both in-home and face-to-face instruction,” Thompson said.

He explained that parents will have a few options, including either in-home virtual learning or face-to-face instruction five days per week. In addition, he said there will be an option to do face-to-face learning three days (Monday-Wednesday-Friday), with virtual learning at home two days (Tuesday-Thursday). He said the opposite option will also be available to provide face-to-face learning two days weekly and three days of virtual learning in the home.

“I’ve met with the other superintendents in the county. I don’t want to speak for them, but I believe our goal here is to do what’s best for kids, and that’s for all the districts. I feel like we’re all trying to make this as best we can, so we can individualize what’s best for each family,” Thompson said. “I just think there are kids out there in our community that are not going to be able to get the instruction they deserve or need in order to succeed through virtual, so we are excited about the opportunity for them to come back and have face-to-face instruction. But also we do understand the worries and concerns of parents, so those options of being at home and having virtual instruction will be offered to them as well, as long as the Kentucky Department of Education will allow them to do so.”

Communication is key, according to Thompson, and he said his district’s administrative team is constantly communicating via email and through other avenues to share ideas, suggestions and support.

“We have a board meeting Monday (July 20), and I am going to be listening to board members and some of their suggestions, and we’ve also conducted a survey that people have responded to. We’ve done a staff survey and we’ve also done a student/community survey, and we got good input from all of that.”

Thompson said the survey indicates more people are ready to come back to school.

“But we want to accommodate everyone’s needs to the best of our ability,” he said. “I know everyone has concerns, and we’re trying to address those concerns to where everybody feels comfortable but also, everybody needs to be considerate of others. All of our situations are different. Some kids really need that opportunity to come back to school so they can have that face-to-face instruction with their teachers. Some students need those mentors in their lives. They need to communicate with their peers and others, so let’s just be considerate of everyone’s situation, and we are going to do the best we can at Pineville Independent to provide the best opportunity for our community.”

When it comes to athletics, Thompson has a leg up on many superintendents, as he serves as a member of the KHSAA’s board of controllers.

“I got first-hand information. We’re taking this in two to three segments. We’ll review it again, July 23 I think is the next date that the board will be able to meet to see what moves will be made, if any,” he said.

Thompson said right now, the KHSAA just continued to segment three, and they are planning on trying to allow football practice to start in August. He added that golf is clear to begin competition as of now.

“I do feel that there’s strong evidence to show that athletics is good for kids mentally, physically, and we will try to do everything we possibly can to get our athletics going in the fall. However, when the data comes in and we are more informed and we can make better decisions as to what we will be able to do, and hopefully we can come up with some progress showing that we’re starting to overcome this thing a little bit,” Thompson said. “But in order to do that, we need everybody cooperating, and that’s everybody in the community.”

Pineville’s football team came up with a slogan, Thompson said, encouraging the public to do its part to help the team get back on the field. The slogan was, ‘Please wear your mask so we can wear our helmets.’

“Everybody loves football in our community, and if everybody would try to do their part and be responsible and maintain their social distancing, we can get these numbers down and show the governor that we’re ready to return to a more normal type of education and athletic situation here in the commonwealth,” he said.


Middlesboro School District

Middlesboro Schools Superintendent Waylon Allen said his district is planning to return to classes Aug. 5, but said pending board approval, he will recommend the start date for students to be changed to Aug. 25.

Allen said students will have two options. The first will be a hybrid method in which students will attend in-person classes two consecutive days per week. The other three days will be delivered virtually through Google Classroom or Blackboard/Apex with teacher access. The second option will be virtual, where students will receive instruction fully online with teacher access through Google Classroom or Blackboard/Apex. He said the district will be providing students with devices, but added that internet access is something the district is still discussing.

Middlesboro Schools completed a parent survey to see what the parents are interested in for their children, Allen said. In addition, the district has created a school planning form for parents to pre-register their children.

“If they do not complete, teachers will be reaching out by phone or home visit to get that information in before Aug. 1,” he said. “This will assist principals with a better plan for re-opening. The district will also be discussing the possibility of bringing on COVID support staff for the 2020-21 school year to assist with sanitizing and cleaning.”

Allen said when it comes to athletics, the district will be awaiting KHSAA guidance, and hopes to hear something by the end of July.

“We are working diligently to ensure that social distancing guidelines and safety procedures are in place,” Allen said. “Student safety is our number one priority.”