Virtual new school year underway, school officials respond to issues


By Taylor Boyd

The beginning of a new, virtual school year was among the items discussed by the Patrick County School Board at its Aug. 13 meeting.

School Superintendent Dean Gilbert said officials are trying to fix the issues with mobile hotspots on three school buses. The buses are to be placed throughout the county to help students with connectivity issues.

“We’re trying to brainstorm this. Where there’s a place to put it, where it works, but also Where’s there’s parking,” Gilbert said, adding that “part of that is we just can’t park a bus on someone’s property without getting permission.”

In a school messenger message to parents on Friday, the board said that the Moorefield Store Volunteer Fire Department, Fairystone Pit Stop and the Willis Gap Community Building are to be hotspot locations, available Monday through Thursday from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

“We also want everyone to know that all of the schools have Wi-Fi, and they are available at any time in the school parking lots,” Gilbert said.

The board also is considering having the mobile hotspots open Saturday mornings, from 9 to 11 a.m., depending on need, interest, and staff availability.

Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Andrea Cassell said the first week of school was a learning period for families “picking up their devices and materials. Our teachers have been holding sessions, zoom sessions, so they can teach students and families what to expect, and try to troubleshoot problems. They’ve done some practice with here’s how they will turn an assignment in, answering individual questions.”

She noted that teachers have been contacting families not otherwise heard from, and parents are still picking up items and materials.

While there has been a good turnout, Cassell said it has not been 100 percent.

Shannon Harrell, of the Blue Ridge District, asked about other ways parents can get information about how to use their devices.

“As families have been coming in to pick up their items, I’ve watched teachers give little tutorials, individual ones,” Cassell said, adding that teachers are available at every school to answer calls and help with any questions parents have.

Staff in the school board office also are available to answer calls and can direct parents on who they should call for help.

A technology help link also was installed on the school division’s website to answer any questions students and teachers have.

Gilbert also said that the number of teachers in quarantine was down to 9, and that as of Thursday, Aug. 13, there were 33 new COVID-19 cases in the county.

Late last week, school officials reported another person in the school community tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total to five.

Those who were in close contact with the affected individual are being notified according to guidelines established by health officials, the recording stated.

The school division continues to work closely with health officials and recommends adherence to guidelines that include social distancing, wearing masks and frequent handwashing.

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The Patrick County School Board will meet on Aug. 27. The time and location of the meeting have yet to be determined.

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