CAIRO — Grady County Schools Superintendent Kermit Gilliard announced Friday that he will ask the Board of Education to push back the start date for the 2020-21 school year to allow for additional preparations in the event the coronavirus pandemic does not subside.

Students are currently slated to head back to school Aug. 3, but Gilliard said in a statement posted online that he will request that the school board to push that date back to Aug. 7. The additional four days will be used to prepare teachers for distance learning in case schools have to close later in the year.

“Our teachers have been working this summer on their technology skills to be better equipped for online teaching this upcoming year,” Gilliard’s statement read. “I am proud of the work they have completed and look forward to seeing what all they will be able to do this year as a result of their training.”

The proposed change will be made by shifting four student holidays which are typically spread throughout the year to the beginning of the academic calendar.

“Students would have the same number of days as they did in the original calendar,” Gilliard said, “they would just be spread differently.”

The superintendent plans to make his request for the change at the BOE’s July 14 meeting.

A more complete plan for how schools will function upon their reopening will be released to parents July 15. The complete plan will cover topics including mask use, social distancing requirements and information on precautions that will be taken in lunchrooms and buses.

Parents will be asked to complete a survey later this week covering concerns about their children returning to school to assist with further planning.

New materials including laptops and iPads are expected to be delivered in late October to be used in classrooms and taken home if campuses are forced to close again. Gilliard is currently expecting schools to open normally, and only about half of the county’s current student population would be able to use take-home technologies if schools can’t reopen this fall, but the superintendent said a modified distance learning plan will be in place in case campuses close before the materials are ready for student use.

Students in grades 6-12 will have the option to take fully virtual courses in lieu of a traditional classroom setting, regardless of whether campuses are closed. Students who elect to take virtual school will be required to remain in the program for at least a full semester.

Plans to introduce a virtual program for K-5 students are also underway, Gilliard said.

Meanwhile, teachers have been asked to limit supply requests for parents this upcoming year.

“We know that many people have missed work and that their income may have changed as a result of not working or job loss,” Gilliard said in the statement. 

Other key supplies, such as hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, are still difficult to find, he added.

Supply donations “will certainly be accepted, but not expected” this year, the superintendent said.

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