CAIRO — The beginning of the 2020-21 academic year in Grady County has been pushed back yet again following Superintendent Kermit Gilliard's recommendation Thursday night.

Students will now report to their classrooms — be it in person or online — on Tuesday, September 8. Teachers will report to work as previously scheduled July 31 for training, then return in mid-August to begin preparations for the upcoming school year.

The announcement of the change in plans comes as health officials are reporting sizable increases in reported cases of COVID-19 in Grady County, and the Southwest Georgia Public Health District says the county has now recorded more than 300 cases of the virus.

A majority of Grady County parents say they want to see their children return to in-person instruction when classes resume, according to a recent school district survey, and Gilliard said in a statement released Friday that school officials “have been working feverishly to find a way to meet the needs of all of our students and parents.”

A total of 52 percent of survey respondents say they would prefer their child to return to school “in the traditional, face-to-face setting with safety measures in place,” according to the survey of 2,260 parents and guardians, which was conducted earlier this month. The results indicate support for the school reopening plan approved by the Grady County Board of Education last week, which stipulates that campuses reopen traditionally with mask usage strongly recommended and several other safety measures in place.

Another 21 percent of survey respondents said they would prefer to see their children in an A/B schedule with two face-to-face days in a classroom and three days online each week, while an additional 18 percent said they desired a “blended” learning format where students would log into their classrooms virtually each day with Grady County teachers as their instructors. Just 8 percent said they would prefer their child to be enrolled in fully online schooling with video lessons, one of the options parents will have available to them this fall.

Grady County students have not set foot inside a classroom in five months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. District officials have been working since mid-March to prepare for campuses eventually reopening.

Other results from the survey show that more than one quarter of Grady County students lack reliable internet service, underlining one of the major hurdles school board members have said they are anticipating in the scenario that classrooms are shuttered once again and one of the primary reasons why a “traditional” reopening is currently planned. A combined 26 percent of survey respondents said they did not have internet service due to its unreliability in their area, because they had not purchased it or that their service was not reliable enough for their children to access school work.

In a separate question, more than 34 percent of respondents said they either did not have a computer or that their child would not be able to access a computer daily. Another 29 percent said a computer was available for their child to use, but that it would have to be shared with other school-aged children.

Parents received a survey for each student in their household.

Around 200 surveys were returned with the wrong address or were completed with no name or school listed were not included in the final tabulation.

Just less than half of the surveys mailed to parents were returned, Gilliard said.

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