A third of Hampshire County students will be learning remotely, a school survey of parents shows.

The total could climb as details of Hampshire County’s plan to return to the classroom are made public.

The results of the survey that was sent out by Superintendent Jeff Pancione has seen that around 935 students, as of Tuesday morning, are enrolled in online-only learning, which makes about 34 percent. 

"I think [the number] is slowly creeping up," Pancione said. "I thought we'd be between 30 and 40 percent with the results from the initial survey. I think we're going to come right in where we thought we'd be." 

With the massive undertaking that is sending students back to school, it’s an equally hefty feat to implement a fully-remote plan for the students whose families aren’t comfortable with a re-entry so soon.

The school board has elected to use Schoology as the remote learning platform, and Lori Gnegy, director of technology for Hampshire County Schools has been working to push the county into the future.

One of the best aspects of the platform, Gnegy explained, is the opportunity for collaboration with other counties.

“The collaboration and communication piece will be huge in our new normal,” Gnegy said. “Right now, Berkeley County is sharing stuff with us, and hopefully we can share everything that works for us, too.”

Schoology is a platform best suited for K-12 learning, as opposed to college students who use more real-time platforms like Blackboard.

With back-to-school considerations including transportation, scheduling, sanitation and more, remote learning has just as many concerns, which the board and Gnegy are preparing to address.

“If we set it up right on the back end, it’ll be seamless for the teachers. The kids and the teachers aren’t going to have any problems,” Gnegy said. “The piece that I worry about is the parents and guardians, especially grandparents, and getting them to communicate with us.”

As a part of the remote learning plan, all students will have a school-provided device to use for their assignments with Schoology, and hotspots through Kajeet are hopefully going to be available outside in various locations around the county for students that live in underserved areas for connectivity.

“My goal is that by Sept. 8, everyone will have a device and connectivity and the kids and staff can log in and get going,” Gnegy outlined. “My main purpose right now is to get the kids and staff settled, and once they have what they need to get going, I can step back and work with the parents and grandparents.”

With the back-to-school undertaking, it appears Hampshire County families are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Students can either be sent to in-person classrooms and risk illness, or face a different learning landscape with online learning. It won’t be easy, either way, President Debbie Champ pointed out.

“I think the number 1 thing is going to be communication,” Champ said, noting that it’s an area where Hampshire needs to improve as a county.

With all of the moving parts in the back-to-school plan, there are plenty of changes, and adapting won’t be easy, but Gnegy is facing the challenge with optimism.

“I’d be lying if I said this was going to be a walk in the park,” Gnegy said. “There’s going to be some obstacles. We have to take a step in some direction, and we can always improve on this as we go.”

At their work session Tuesday morning, the board also heard plans from Nutritional Director Amy Haines about how mealtimes will work to keep students as safe as possible while in the physical school building (for example, students will not be transporting food, they will maintain social distancing in the cafeterias, they will not be allowed in the kitchen and barriers will attempt to minimize the spread of respiratory droplets between students and kitchen staff).

The Hampshire High School administration also further discussed the possibility of block scheduling for HHS in order to limit gatherings and close contact among students, as well as minimize transition time between classes.

The board will hold their next regular meeting Monday at 6:30.

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