Decatur City Schools will make changes next semester to its blended learning program but won't eliminate it like Madison City Schools plans to do.

Superintendent Michael Douglas said the Decatur district will announce specific changes next month for its blended learning program, which allows a student to have both remote and in-person instruction.

Meanwhile, Morgan County and Hartselle school officials said they have no plans to change their virtual, blended and in-person instruction offerings next semester.

Douglas said last month at a school board meeting that blended instruction has been difficult for teachers, who often are teaching classes in-person while also managing their blended students.

Some blended students aren’t completing their schoolwork, Douglas said, and teachers can’t always get in contact with blended students to address academic issues. In addition to adding extra work for teachers during an already difficult year, Douglas said, this is causing a portion of blended students to struggle academically.

Douglas said students who aren’t using blended or virtual instruction appropriately may be asked to return to in-person instruction.

“I think the biggest thing is communicating to parents and students our expectations for virtual and blended, and then if those expectations can’t be met, then those options would no longer be available,” Douglas said.

Madison City Schools will remove its blended learning option for the spring semester.

“We must commit teachers to either virtual classes or school-based classes, with no hybrid classes to ensure that teachers can provide all of our students with more individual support,” the district said in a document posted to its website.

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Hartselle City Schools

Hartselle City Schools federal programs coordinator Susan Hayes said blended learning has been going well when the students are the ones partaking in a hybrid of virtual and in-person learning.

“We have a few virtual students who choose to come onto campus for one or maybe two classes. … An example would be when we offer the classes for students who are part of our gifted and talented program, some of those students have said, ‘I want to get my schooling virtually, but I will come onto campus for that class when that is offered,’” Hayes said.

Hayes said all high school students are blended in a sense, because Hartselle High has students alternate between remote and in-person learning. Depending on their last initial, students are either part of an A or B rotation, so that the number of students attending school on a given day is halved.

“The reasoning behind that was to prevent crowding in the classrooms and in the hallways so that should someone become infected, fewer students would have to be quarantined as a result of that one infection,” Hayes said.

On the other hand, when it's the teachers who have to switch between in-classroom instruction and teaching from home, staffing problems can be a concern.

“That’s problematic. I think something that the entire state is seeing is that a few students (can be) out of the classroom and the classroom can still (meet), but you get enough staff missing and there just aren’t a lot of ways to do it,” she said.

Hayes said whether a teacher is sick and unable to teach, or well and simply has to teach from home, a substitute is still needed to manage the classroom.

“Sometimes the subs are getting COVID. Again, they’re part of the community,” she said. “My opinion is that the staffing struggle will be the struggle that would cause us to have to look at the pivot to all-virtual, more so than a student issue would be. … But, we’re not there yet and we don’t want to be there, and we’re doing everything we can to mitigate conditions so that we don’t have to (go all-virtual).”

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Morgan County Schools

Cherie Humphries, Morgan County Schools director of elementary education, said the district is planning to keep traditional, remote, virtual and blended learning options intact for the upcoming semester. Remote students learn from Morgan County Schools teachers at home, while virtual students are taught by teachers from outside of the district.

“At this point, there has not been any discussion in any changes to students’ instructional options in the upcoming semester,” Humphries said.

Humphries said all of the system's students will continue to learn virtually on Wednesdays, as they have the entire semester, so that schools can be sanitized.

Superintendent Robert Elliott Jr. announced Tuesday that Falkville High students would learn virtually for the remainder of the week, and would not return to the classroom until the Monday after Thanksgiving break. The change was made after a number of teachers were quarantined due to COVID-19.

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cassie.kuhn@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2469. Twitter @ DD_CassieKuhn.

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