THS Assistant Principal Larry Dunn speaks with Superintendent Mychele Rhodes as students check their class assignments during the 2019 open house at Thomson High School. Open house for each McDuffie County school this year will be virtual rather than in-person.

McDuffie County school administrators asked Board of Education members to consider having students begin the 2020-2021 school year on Aug. 17, rather than the initial start date of Aug. 3.

The two-week delay would allow teachers more time to prepare for in-person learning and might give the spread of the corona virus a chance to abate, Dr. Lynn Cato, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, told school board members during Tuesday morning’s planning session. The school board will meet Thursday at 6 p.m. at Thomson High School to take action on items discussed during the planning session.

Cato explained the calendar change, if approved by board members, would reduce the number of instructional days for students. Teachers would not lose workdays, as they will report to their respective campuses on a staggered rotation schedule and also continue to work from home, she said.

The district plans to hold virtual open houses for parents and students Aug. 10-13, according to Cato. She said teachers are now filming meet and greets for the virtual open houses. Parents will also be able to view online instructions for using Google classroom, Cato added.

McDuffie County School Superintendent Dr. Mychele Rhodes told Board of Education members that 70 counties in Georgia have experienced a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, including McDuffie County.

Rhodes confirmed a school reopening plan would be presented to the school board on Thursday. The plan will be based on guidelines put out by the Georgia Department of Education, Centers for Disease Control and state Department of Public Health regarding school safety amidst the pandemic, she said.

“All of these decisions have been based on data,” Rhodes said.

Cato told school board members that the district has also re-opened the virtual learning option registration for parents and guardians due to the continued demand. Registration had initially closed out on July 16, but the system continued to receive a significant number of registration forms for online learning from parents after the deadline, she said. Registration for virtual learning will remain open until 11:59 p.m. on July 30, Cato said. Forms can be found on the system website at www.mcduffie.k12.ga.us.

The school system has purchased flash drives, flash drive duplicators, hot spots and Kajeet cradle points for smart buses to assist with online learning, according to Cato. She added there would be a single sign-on option for multiple web-based programs so students won’t have to remember so many user names and passwords.

In response to a board member’s question on when the high school football season will begin, Auxiliary Services Director Cecil Strong answered “Sept. 4.”  Strong said the Georgia High School Athletic Association recently met and determined there would be a 2020 football season, but that it would start late due to the spread of the corona virus.

Strong added that Georgia public high schools likely would not play any football games out of state.

“It may be a situation where we only play regional games. We don’t know yet,” he said.

Rhodes said athletic events would be addressed in the school system’s reopening plan. She cautioned that the pandemic is a volatile situation and as schools receive information that changes daily their plans must be flexible.

Rhodes commented that digital ticketing might be implemented for school athletic events to avoid cash transactions that could potentially spread the virus, and social distancing practices would be in place. Fans would have to sit spaced out in bleachers and stand six feet apart when in line at concession stands.

In other school board business, Cato informed board members that Thomson High School’s graduating seniors received a total of 221 diploma seals. Cato said this was a high number of seals for the class of 2020 to earn.  She said this particular class was “very civic-minded” and predicts they will be successful in their future endeavors.

Cato presented a breakdown in types of THS diploma seals received: 26 students received seals in Fine Arts, 20 earned civic engagement seals, 109 earned Career, Technical and Agricultural Education Pathway Skills seals and 66 earned CTAE Pathway Skills seals with distinction. A total of 187 students earned at least one seal, and 32 students earned two or more seals, according to Cato.

In addition, the Board of Education will vote Thursday on school administrators’ requests to rollover funds from FY20 to FY21 in order to complete various maintenance and technology projects, and on a bid to purchase a new video surveillance system for the McDuffie Achievement Center.

Board of Education meeting agendas can be found on the school system’s website. School board meetings are open to the public.

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