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Oak Ridge R-6 approves distance learning plan

The Oak Ridge School District approved plans for distance learning and virtual learning this year, allowing students to learn from home during short-term school closures or to learn virtually full time.

Oak Ridge teachers will teach the students during short-term distance learning, but students who need to be taught virtually full time will be primarily taught through the third-party vendor Edgenuity.

Superintendent Dr. Adrian Eftink said the virtual learning option, called BlueJay Nest, was created after they saw students starting to sign up for virtual learning programs in surrounding school districts.

Dr. Sonia Wood, the new elementary principal for Oak Ridge, said that the District’s COVID task force recommended Edgenuity because it is approved by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and provides instruction for kindergarten through 12th grade.

Wood said some of the DESE-approved vendors only provided virtual learning for sixth grade and above. Edgenuity also allows students to work at their own pace.

“What we liked about Edgenuity is that it is already prerecorded lessons by teachers that have the activities built-in,” Wood said. “Kindergarten through 12th grade instruction looks the same for parents and the assessments are similar.”

Wood added that Edgenuity provides its own teachers to help monitor tutor the students, but Oak Ridge will also be in communication with both Edgenuity and parents to make sure students are progressing.

“Our teachers can serve as backup to help with tutoring, but we will have one point of contact for the district with the Edgenuity teachers to reach out to if our students are not doing work or keeping up with their progress,” Wood said.

Families have until Friday, Aug. 21, to sign up for BlueJay Nest. Parents will be required to attend a meeting with district administrators to go over the instructional progress and enroll in classes.

At the time of the School Board meeting, the District had about 10 students who were planning on being home-schooled this year due to health concerns. District administrators planned on contacting them to see if they would be interested in participating in BlueJay Nest.

The District will follow MSHSAA guidelines regarding participation in school-sponsored athletics, which currently states that students enrolled in BlueJay Nest will be able to participate in sports.

Participating in BlueJay Nest will be free for families in the District, but students will be locked into using the program for the entire semester after a 10-day grace period. The program will cost the District $1,850 for each elementary student participating and $1,650 for secondary students.

Eftink said the District will have enough Chromebooks for each student to be able to take one home in the event that they are participating in BlueJay Nest or the school temporarily goes to distance learning.

He said the District already was approved to receive CARES Act funding from the County for the additional Chromebooks, and the District also hopes to be able to fund mobile hot spots for students who do not have reliable Internet access in the District. Eftink said that around 100 Oak Ridge students would be in need of a hotspot.

The District has created an at-home technology handbook outlining the expectations for the use of the Chromebooks and hot spots when they are used at home. Students will be required to turn in their District-issued technology at the end of the school year. Failure to turn in the Chromebook, charger and hotspot could result in a replacement fee of $395.

Families will be able to pay for an optional insurance plan that allows for one free replacement for the Chrome-book, charger and hotspot. The plan is $50 per student per year. A down payment of $25 is expected at the time of purchase, and the remaining $25 must be paid in the next 30 days.

The COVID-19 reopening plan was also edited by the School Board to add the virtual learning option and better reflect the county mask order. The plan now states that staff members and students in fourth grade and above will be required to have a mask or face covering available with them at this time.

Students in fourth through 12th grade will not be required to wear masks all day, but must have access to a mask as needed or as instructed. These students will also be required to wear a mask on the school bus as long as the county mandate is in place.

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past four years. He can be reached at cbjedit@socket.net.

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