Related story: Some Bryan schools see new leaders for 2020-21.
Roughly a quarter of the nearly 10,000 students enrolled in Bryan County Schools this year will take classes online, school officials said.
The rest will see differences in how classes are taught – think social distancing and masks or face shields – meals are provided, sports are played and more, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to force schools around the state to adapt.
Along the way administrators said the key for parents, students and educators is to be flexible, because circumstances could change as the school year goes on.
In all about 2,500 students were signed up for “e-learning” during registration periods, though that number could change slightly before classes begin Monday.
The number of students taking online classes apparently was higher than expected, but Superintendent Dr. Paul Brooksher said during an Aug. 6, school board workshop, administrators are confident they’re prepared.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of our staff,” Brooksher said, as he and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Trey Robertson talked school board members through multiple plans involving e-learning at the elementary, high school and middle school levels.
While there wasn’t a breakdown of students enrolled online from each school available at the meeting, Robertson, who is head of teaching and learning for the system, said officials projected about 15 percent would enroll in online classes.
Officials project an enrollment of 9,965 this fall.
Richmond Hill High School, the system’s largest school with about 2,300 students, had 638 students signed up for online classes, while Bryan County High School, with a total enrollment of more than 560 students last year, had 183 students enrolled in e-learning.
All students taking online classes will be expected to attend, Robertson said with attendance being taken and parents notified if students don’t log in. Teachers who teach the online classes will do so from their respective schools, as well. They’ll also be required to wear masks, as will all school system employees at schools.
“We’re role models. In the beginning, we’ll all be wearing masks,” Brooksher said. “If later we find we can lessen up, we’ll lessen up.”
The two schools with the lowest amount number of students enrolled in online classes are McAllister Elementary and the new Frances Meeks Elementary. Those schools will combine online classes.
Assistant Superintendent Jason Rogers said approximately 1,600 of the students enrolled in online classes rode school buses last year, which provides transportation officials with opportunities to rework bus routes.
“We’ve no intention of people losing their job by collapsing bus routes, so we’ll use the opportunity to socially distance more and probably have faster routes,” he said, adding that updated routes will be added to the school website.
Rogers, who oversees operations for the system, said Bryan County Schools will join other school districts in the area using an infection control system called Ecovasive to treat surfaces in buses and the schools. The system reportedly kills COVID-19 and other bacteria on contact, and is good for 30 to 90 days, according to its website.
In addition, Rogers said Bryan County Schools received hand sanitizers, sanitizer stations, protective masks for children and shields from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. The system has also purchased extra supplies.
With the Georgia High School Association backing up the start of the football season until Sept. 4, Richmond Hill High School is appealing to play a game scheduled for Sept. 3. There are also efforts under way to deal with social distancing at football games. For sports such as softball or volleyball, where attendance is generally lower, the GHSA has asked that fans and teams practice social distancing – which will at least temporarily end traditional sportsmanship measures such as players meeting on the diamond after games to congratulate one another.
School officials are also looking at ways to deliver meals to e-learning students, though details were still being worked out, according to Assistant Superintendent Melanie James. In addition, Bryan County Schools is offering its teachers daycare for the first time. The pilot program is at Frances Meeks Elementary, the newest of the system’s 11 schools, James said.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp ordered schools in Georgia to close in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced school administrators and teachers to move to what administrators call “a virtual learning environment.”
That was a different time, Robertson told school board members, and going into a school year knowing the challenges makes it easier to prepare, he said, and adjust. In addition, school officials backed up the start date 12 days from its originally scheduled Aug. 5 start in order to give administrators and teachers more time to prepare for the change in how classes are taught.
“When you start looking at this from the perspective we’ll be here all year long, and understand that perspective when we’re starting out, and know we may have to adapt as we go through the year, it’s overall a pretty good place to start,” he said.
SCHOOLS AT A GLANCE:
School information, courtesy Bryan County Schools:
• Richmond Hill High School 1 Wildcat Drive, Richmond Hill, GA 31324 (912) 459-5151 Mr. Bivins Miller, Principal School Day Begins 7:30 a.m. & Ends 2:30 p.m.
• Richmond Hill Middle School 503 Warren Hill Road, Richmond Hill, GA 31324 (912) 459-5130 Dr. Elizabeth Bennett, Principal School Day Begins 8:05 a.m. & Ends 3:05 p.m.
• George Washington Carver 476 Frances Meeks Way, Richmond Hill, GA 31324 (912) 459-5111 Mrs. Karen W. Smith, Principal School Day Begins 9:00 a.m. & Ends 4:00 p.m.
Richmond Hill Elementary 473 Frances Meeks Way, Richmond Hill, GA 31324 (912) 459-5100 Mr. Walt Barnes, Principal School Day Begins 9:00 a.m. & Ends 4:00 p.m.
• Richmond Hill Primary School 471 Frances Meeks Way, Richmond Hill, GA 31324 (912) 459-5080 Mrs. Nancy Highsmith, Principal School Day Begins 9:00 a.m. & Ends 4:00 p.m.
• Bryan County High School 1234 Camellia Drive, Pembroke, GA 31321 (912) 626-5060 Ms. Mary Beth Blankenship, Principal School Day Begins 8:05 a.m. & Ends 3:05 p.m.
• Bryan County Middle School 600 Payne Drive, Pembroke, GA 31321 (912) 626-5050 Ms. Liz Raeburn, Principal School Day Begins 8:35 a.m. & Ends 3:35 p.m.
• Bryan County Elementary 250 Payne Drive, Pembroke, GA 31321 (912) 626-5033 Mr. Jeff Hodges, Principal School Day Begins 7:50 a.m. & Ends 2:50 p.m. www.bryancountyschools.org/o/bces
• Lanier Primary School 6024 Highway 280 East, Pembroke, GA 31321 (912) 626-5020 Dr. Eileen Emerson, Principal School Day Begins 7:55 a.m. & Ends 2:55 p.m.www.bryancountyschools.org/o/lps
McAllister Elementary School 224 Veteran’s Memorial Parkway, Richmond Hill, GA 31324 (912) 851-4040 Ms. Heather Tucker, Principal School Day Begins 7:40 a.m. & Ends 2:40 p.m.
• Frances Meeks Elementary School 488 Warren Hill Road, Richmond Hill, GA 31324 (912) 851-4100 Dr. Brittney Mobley, Principal School Day Begins 7:40 a.m. & Ends 2:40 p.m.
Community Education 120 Constitution Way, Richmond Hill, GA 31324 (912) 459-5116 Mr. S. Marshall Griffin, System Coordinator www.bryancountyschools.org/o/comed.