School system planning more eLearning days

Published 9:59 am Wednesday, October 21, 2020

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By JOYANNA LOVE/ Managing Editor

The Chilton County Board of Education has approved sending a plan to the state to incorporate more eLearning days into the school calendar.

Additional eLearning days have been requested by teachers, many of whom are juggling online and in-person students, to catch up on work.

Superintendent Jason Griffin submitted three letters from teachers expressing concerns with the current situation to the Board prior to the vote.

The Board approval was given as a part of the consent agenda during a voting session on Oct. 20 at Maplesville High School.

If approved by the state, there would be an eLearning day every two weeks.

“This modification serves two purposes,” Griffin said. “One it allows for more eLearning days to assist the teachers to do what they need to do, and at the same time it also balances child care because we are not just adding a bunch of days where parents have to find child care … There is no perfect answer.”

Teachers have requested one eLearning day a week. Director of Teaching and Learning Ashlie Harrison said the state department has hinted that it would be against a request that has an eLearning day every week.

The planned eLearning days have been selected to be a mixture of A and B days, so the eLearning day would not always be the same day of the week.

“If it is a B day, you will still get B day instruction,” Harrison said. “We received multiple suggestions as far as whether or not to do it on Friday. There were pros and cons to both.”

Harrison said the school system cannot change whether a day is an A or a B day.

Griffin said the request will be submitted to the state department of education on Oct. 21. However, there will be an eLearning day on Oct. 28.

Harrison mentioned in the meeting that many school systems are moving away from eLearning days and trying to have as many students as possible attending in-person.

Students are responsible for completing work assigned on eLearning, and it does count for a grade.

Prior to the vote, Maplesville High School teacher DeNe’ Carter shared teachers’ frustrations and concerns with “doing two jobs” teaching in-person and online students. She said many teachers are receiving emails, calls and texts from parents or students with questions after 9 p.m. at night, even on the weekends.

“We have basically been on call 24/7 like doctors, and we have gotten no additional pay,” Carter said.

While high school teachers have the same amount of planning time this year, many elementary students have less because their students are not going to as many extracurricular classes.

“More often than not we use the planning time we do have in the school day managing the online workload because we notice there are numerous messages from the online students/their parents … and we put our planning for our in-person class on the backburner,” Carter said.

Carter also said teachers did not receive adequate training on the online platform.

She commented later that students using the online option should have been required to come to an orientation to at least be given an overview about how to use the online platform. This may have cut down on the number of wrong assignment submissions.

“We need time,” Carter said. “We need time when students are not on campus. Not only do we need it, I personally think we deserve it. We are in one of the most underpaid and most disrespected, often times, professions that there are.”

She suggested an eLearning day every Friday and additional compensation would be welcome.

Carter ended her speech amongst applause from the educators in the audience.

The Board did approve a supplement mechanism that will allow for supplements for employees as funds are available. Initially, this will be $100 for employees with 10 years or more of service with the school system and $50 for those with less than 10 years. These funds will be paid in January. This is estimated to cost $86,000. Another supplement could be approved when funds are available, Board President Pam Price said.

Issues with online students not completing assignments was also briefly discussed. Griffin said if a student does not complete the work and fails a class, then they will fail. It will not be considered a reflection on the teacher.

Harrison said school administrators are trying to get students who are not completing work to come back to class in-person.

English Language Learners Director Pam Bearden said she had been reaching out to online students in the ELL program that were not completing work to try to get them back on campus.

The Board also approved allowing students to use the playground equipment, opening the school libraries and allowing schools to submit plans for approval to the Superintendent for holding outdoor large gatherings.

The Board approved hiring an ELL teacher. Bearden explained that there were four teachers serving more than 500 students and monitoring another 200. About 77 of these students have chosen the online learning option this semester.

“We are just desperate,” she said.

The position will be paid for through local funding. Price asked if this could be paid for through Bridging the Gap funds. Bearden did not think it could.

“The federal and state want the local to pick it up (funding ELL),” Bearden said.

Also during the meeting, the Board approved purchasing the full version of the Chrome extension Kami, which would make working with existing virtual documents on the online learning platforms being used by the school system easier.