This week marks the start of virtual learning for students in the Warren County public school district.

The local school system planned to begin virtual learning with the start of the 2020-21 school year on Aug. 17 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, production and shipment of Chromebooks that Warren County Schools ordered in June has been delayed.

The school system began the year by providing instructional packets for the first few weeks with the hopes that the Chromebook order would come in during that time. 

When they did not arrive, Warren County Schools had to resort to an alternative plan. For the past few years, each school in the district has offered students Chromebooks for use in the classroom. The school system used these devices to help families begin virtual learning.

Warren County Schools Chief Operations Officer Andre Stewart said that because some students already had laptops or other devices, there were plenty of Chromebooks to distribute to parents last week. Parents went to their children’s schools to pick up devices, schedules and other materials that their sons and daughters will need this year.

Warren County Schools set a $20 fee for each Chromebook to offset expenses related to repairs and correcting problems that might arise. As preparations for the new school year continued, a number of local businesses, community organizations and individuals provided contributions to cover fees for families with multiple children enrolled in Warren County Schools.

The school system established an application process for financial assistance. Cathy Alston-Kearney, student success coordinator, said that 103 applications were received. She explained that the school system used criteria similar to what is used to determine eligibility for free and reduced-price lunches to determine who could receive financial assistance. Parents whose applications were accepted were required to pay the $20 fee for one child, but would not have to pay for their other children to receive Chromebooks.

Alston-Kearney said that as of Friday afternoon, 406 students received Chromebooks at no cost to their families.

Warren County Schools provided a virtual learning guide for parents that outlined how school will work.

According to the guide, students will follow a daily schedule similar to what they would experience in the classroom. Schedules will incorporate between four and 5.5 hours of learning each day, depending upon a student’s grade level. Each day will include teacher-facilitated learning, teacher office hours, small group and individual assistance; independent learning, activities and tasks; and time for snacks, lunch and rest.

Warren County Schools will measure student attendance in a number of ways that include time spent working on the online platform, log-in activity, being present during live instruction, submitting completed assignments, and student/teacher interaction. If students are going to be absent, a parent or guardian must alert the teacher by email or phone call.

The parent guide indicates that the school system will use a number of electronic resources to allow two-way interaction between students and their teachers. 

The school system is working to increase the number of internet hot spots in the community, including making personal hot spots available. The following sites currently are designated as hot spots: school parking lots; Warren County Memorial Library, 119 S. Front St., Warrenton; Warren County Recreation Center, 840 U.S. Hwy. 158 Bypass, Warrenton; and Warren County Community Center, 111 W. Franklin St., Warrenton.

Stewart previously said that school systems throughout North Carolina and the United States are experiencing delays in receiving Chromebooks. Last week, he said that providers anticipate that Warren County Schools could receive its devices later this month.