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School board discusses sports and technology

By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times

 By the time the Carter County Board of Education met last Thursday, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA) had already made their decision on sports for the school year. Even though in-school classes aren’t expected to open until the end of September, schools will begin the year with high school football. 

Enough time had passed for Carter County Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Ronnie Dotson, to take the temperature of his colleagues on the decision. Dotson told the board the governor will still have to “sign off” on the decision, but that many other superintendents he spoke to were upset with the decision. Dotson explained that many wondered how it could be unsafe to return to school but safe to participate in and attend sporting events. 

Dotson also discussed the district’s plan for orienting transitional students – those entering Kindergarten, Sixth, and Ninth grades, when they would be entering a new school. He said because they can have up to 15 percent of the student body in a school building, they will be scheduling time for those students who want a walkthrough orientation of their new school building. He said they are also looking at some tutoring opportunities where it can be done safely. 

The board also heard a report on instructional updates from Judy Dotson and technology update from Barrett Bush. Dotson discussed training with staff, to help familiarize them with the technology they will be using, and helped give the board an idea of what virtual lessons will look like. She discussed the Google classroom, using a “meet link” to create a live session between a teacher and a student, and the bitmoji classroom, which enables students to explore a virtual classroom environment and interact with lessons by clicking on posters and items around the classroom, or by clicking on a cartoon version of their teacher. 

Board member Rachel Fankell asked about whether training on the different aspects of the virtual classroom would be made available to students and their parents. Dotson said they were creating videos that walked through the different steps, but those were mostly aimed at parents. Dr. Ronnie Dotson added that the district would also have phone in tech support. 

Dr. Dotson also added that the district was looking at different ways of loading content onto Chromebooks if the family was having trouble connecting to the internet, or couldn’t utilize a hotspot for any reason. One option he said some schools were considering was having parents send the Chromebooks to the school via school bus, and then returning those computers to the families the next day. Because buses will already be delivering lunches to students at their home, he explained, it wouldn’t necessarily require any extra trips. He said they also planned to have people in each school parking lot during the first week, to provide advice and assistance for accessing the parking lot wi-fi hotspots the first time. He said they are also working on plans to have teachers available for some time in the evening, by allowing them to trade hours from the beginning of a school day for the hours they will be available in the evening. 

Bush discussed updates to security precautions that would be implemented, because of the home use of the Chromebooks. He said the district already teaches children to be “good digital citizens” who are careful with their information online. For instance, he said, the district teaches children to protect their personally identifiable information (PII). Despite the district’s emphasis on protecting their PII, Bush explained, the district would be moving forward with setting strict content filters to protect that information. He said the filters would err on the side of caution and might block content that teachers want students to have access to. In those cases, he explained, they could whitelist those pages or sites on an individual basis as necessary and upon teacher request. 

So younger students don’t have to remember multiple passwords, he said, they are also setting up a single sign on (SSO) system, where students can login with a single set of credentials and access all their various school related apps and sites. 

Bush said the district has, so far, set up 4,100 Chromebooks in anticipation of the new school year. 

In other action the board moved to leave the motor vehicle tax rate at 47 cents per $100 of valuation, and moved to approve the use of emergency leave time if it was related to a COVID-19 illness or to other issues like a death in the family. Dr. Dotson said while the number of days of leave currently offered is ten, he did recommend the granting of an additional ten days if the teacher’s situation required them to be off that long. Granting a total of 20 days though, would “meet our need” for the first month of school, Dotson said. 

The board also approve a meal service agreement with Northeast, and approved several other items by consent, including the minutes of the last two meetings, the receipt of personnel action reports, leave of absence requests, an agreement with Eastern Kentucky University on student teaching, Title IX policy and procedure updates, dual credit agreement with Kentucky Christian University (KCU) and other items. 

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com

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