Huntsville parents confused, frustrated after announcement to start school year virtually

The district has not released specifics on meals, computers and WiFi.

Posted: Jul 22, 2020 5:04 PM

Some parents are frustrated and others are confused after learning all three public school systems in Madison County will start the year with virtual-only learning. Those parents want to know what will make this school year smoother than last year.

Huntsville City Schools said it's working to hammer out details still on WiFi, meal service and getting students computers for the upcoming school year. Those answers aren't clear in the 110-page reset plan the district released about two weeks ago.

On Wednesday, Christie Finley, Huntsville City Schools Superintendent, said with the rising cases of coronavirus in North Alabama, it was clear students couldn't return for in-person school next month.

"We reached this by assessing the current health situation in North Alabama and across the state and weighing the impact a full school reopening would have on the health of our city," she said.

However, not much else about the remote learning plan was made clear. The district said it plans to have a computer for each student, but couldn’t release more details about how students will get them.

The district was recently awarded more than $2.5 million by Gov. Kay Ivey's office for remote learning, and Finley said it plans to use that money to cover WiFi costs for families.

"We also know that many of our students may have internet access issues. As a district, we are currently working to obtain low-cost internet options for those students and their families," she added.

For the time being, the only definitive part of the plan is coronavirus data and stats will determine when students return to traditional school buildings.

"If we still see there are cases in the area, maybe full on in October will not be the best case scenario. We are ready to implement a staggered schedule, which we have in our current reset plan, so we have those responses ready in the event we do go back to the building," she said.

Finley said updates on if kids would be able to return to school will come through board meetings and through her weekly podcast during the school year.

WAAY 31 also asked her about the difference between the two online learning options Huntsville schools are offering. Finley said both remote learning and the Huntsville Virtual Academy will use the same platforms, but remote learning will be closer to a traditional school day. Parents have 48 hours to make a decision.

"This is school. We are going to have school. It's not what we want it to look like and we want our students in the building. We also know it's equally important that the well being of our students, staff and teachers are clearly what the goal is right now," she said.

Finley explained traditional versus remote learning.

"We have remote learning, which will look just like the school day, but the virtual academy is for that flexible student that may want to login at 10 o'clock because you know high school students might not like to login at 8 o'clock," she said.

Finley added parents have until Friday to make the decision which option is better for their family, and they won't be able to change their selection until the end of the semester. She also admitted the district still needs to get a lot of information to parents.

"If they are unenrolling from the virtual academy. The understanding is they will likely come back to the building that last nine weeks. It is important to know if you are staying in the virtual academy, you are staying there the entire semester," she said.

Finley wants parents to know all students will get the same curriculum across the board. The main difference is students work at their own pace in the virtual academy and remote learning includes live classes online.

"We are all using the same curriculum. Schools PLP is the platform we are using because our teachers are the same teachers are kids would have in the classroom, too. Everyone will have access to that same platform and the same method of learning, so it will look the same," she explained.

Parents who have already enrolled their children in the virtual academy but want to switch to the remote learning option have until 4 p.m. on Friday to do that. Click HERE to fill out the form, or you can email or call the district.

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