The New Castle Area School District approved a back-to-school education plan Monday that will involve strictly at-home learning on computers, at least through Nov. 3.
The board also officially adopted a revised school calendar, which requires teachers to report for in-service training Aug. 24 through 27 to prepare for the online lessons, with students starting school in their virtual classrooms Aug. 31.
The return-to-school plan also includes details for a tentative hybrid learning schedule for the second nine weeks, meaning students would go to school part-time and would be educated at home part-time.
“The goal is to provide our students with the best education possible in this unprecedented time,” Superintendent Debbie DeBlasio told the school board.
Citing four guiding principals as her goals — health and safety, food and nutrition, social and emotional learning and quality education — DeBlasio said she believes a virtual learning environment “is the safest option right now for our students and staff.”
She emphasized that the entire plan will be detailed online, and she intends to present it virtually to teachers Tuesday and to district parents at 1 p.m. Thursday via a Zoom meeting.
The plan, as detailed by DeBlasio and Emily Sanders, director of data and assessment technology, has two options for parents for the first nine weeks.
One is a virtual learning model, where district teachers are actively teaching students via online instruction, and every student in the district will have a computer — either provided by the district or supplied by their parents at home. Much of the learning will be live from classrooms, with teacher interaction online.
The other option is for parents to enroll their children in New Castle Cyber Academy, which is a partnership between the district and Edgenuity Instructional Services with district-approved curriculum and qualified state-certified educators who are not district-employed teachers. For each student enrolled in the cyberschool, the district must pay a tuition of $3,500 per year, and students must attend a full 18 weeks.
DeBlasio said the decision not to return students to the school buildings and the plans for educating them and keeping them safe was one made throughout the summer, with extensive input from district administrators, teachers and parents and a task force comprised of all of those that was broken down into committees.
She cited the increasing positive COVID-19 cases in Lawrence County as the reasoning for the decision to go virtual.
The county had 55 new positive cases of the virus reported July 10 to 14, 25 more July 15-19, 30 cases between July 20 and 24; 40 between July 25 and 29 and 53 from July 30 through Thursday last week. That’s 203 new cases of COVID-19 in one month, DeBlasio said.
The district also had conducted a survey of parents to gain input. Of the 2,530 responses received, 53.3 percent said their children would need to ride the buses. Although only 15.6 percent said their children would not be able to wear masks as required, DeBlasio said she felt that many children were enough to make the decision.
“This is why I’m presenting to you the virtual method of education,” she said.
In the coming days this week, the New Castle News will provide details of what virtual learning versus cyber academy learning will look like for district students. It also will include details of how the students will be fed, and what the next phase of the educational program will look like, should the students return to the classrooms part time.