Warren County Schools is working on an alternative plan for the start of the 2020-21 school year because arrival of the Chromebooks it ordered in June has been delayed. They were supposed to come in on Aug. 11.

Andre Stewart, the school system’s chief operations officer, said that Warren County “is at the top of the list” because it ordered Chromebooks in June, but that suppliers do not have a definite date when they will be available.

Discussion about the potential need for an alternative plan to open the school year took place during a virtual Community Town Hall Meeting on Aug. 5.

School will start on Aug. 17 across North Carolina, according to a state mandate.  

In July, the Warren County Board of Education approved a plan to use virtual learning for the first quarter of the year, until Oct. 9, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The school system will monitor data on the number of virus cases to determine when and whether students will return to class this school year.

School System Chief Operations Officer Andre Stewart said that Chromebooks will be available for all of the district’s students for a $20 fee. He added that students who have laptops may use them instead of having to purchase Chromebooks. 

Warren County Schools will schedule a date for parents to pick up Chromebooks at individual schools once the machines arrive.  However, Stewart noted that computer companies are experiencing a high demand for the machines since many school districts plan to use virtual learning this year.

A parent asked whether the school system will use instructional packets if the Chromebooks don’t come in on time. Warren County Schools prepared packets for students after schools closed in the spring due to COVID-19.

Stewart said that instructional packets will be part of the “Plan B” that the school system is finalizing. 

Internet access

In the meantime, Warren County Schools is moving forward with efforts to ensure that local students can access lessons online. Those without internet access at their homes will have a number of options. Stewart said that the parking lots at all seven schools in the district will serve as internet hot spots.

A parent asked if picnic tables could be set up at the schools for students without WiFi access at home. Stewart said that Warren County Schools will consider the suggestion.

He noted that plans are underway to send buses into some areas as hot spots. In addition, the county is partnering with Warren County Schools to designate certain county buildings as hot spots, Stewart added. Those locations will be announced when plans are finalized.

Prevent hacking

At the start of last week’s virtual meeting, those listening in heard loud music instead of the meeting discussion. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mary Young said that hackers had crashed the meeting and would be blocked from further access.

Stewart said that a similar incident will always be possible during virtual classes. However, he noted that teachers will be trained in system software and will learn how to block hackers if their lessons are crashed.

School days

Stewart said that students will not be required to wear school uniforms since they will not be in the classroom. However, he asked that they watch what they wear because they will be asked to turn on the camera on their Chromebooks at certain times.

Stewart explained that school days will follow the schedule of typical school days in the classroom. For example, high school students will be learning from 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m. However, the block schedule classes will be divided into time for live lessons with teachers and time for students to do their work.

At the middle school level, students will take classes in the core subjects, such as reading, math, science and social studies, in the mornings. Afternoons will be devoted to elective classes.

Plans for pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and Exceptional Children’s classes are being finalized.

Class sessions will be recorded so that they can be accessed at any time by students unable to view them at the scheduled time.

At all grade levels, the instructional day will include teacher office hours and remediation.

Class schedules and student handbooks will be distributed when parents pick up Chromebooks.

Parents helping schools

Stewart said that parents can help Warren County Schools this year my making sure that their children log in for classes every day and take advantage of remediation sessions if they have trouble with any subject.

Parents should also make sure that they provide up-to-date contact information to their child’s school so that teacher can maintain regular communication with them.

Stewart urged parents to make sure that they receive all of the information they need during the pick-up event for laptops, including how to log in to daily class sessions. If they have additional questions, they should contact their child’s school.

Stewart described the upcoming school year as an unprecedented time, but said that Warren County Schools will continue its mission of educating children.

“We will do our best to educate our children during this trying time,” he said.