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‘Strong Start’ grant gives each student technology access: Start of 2020 school year remains shrouded in uncertainty

LAPLACE — There is still a lot of uncertainty around what schools will look like when, and if, doors open in August for the 2020-2021 academic year.

During a recent School Board meeting, conducted via Zoom, interim Superintendent Cory Butler said the school district would need to look into three different learning models: virtual, face-to-face, and blended (a combination of the two).

Also on the horizon is a Strong Start 2020 grant that will allow students to have 1:1 device and Internet access by the start of the upcoming school year.

Butler said the grant, which totals more than $2,098,000, will be divided between public and private schools in the district based on enrollment. St. John Public Schools will receive $1,677,459 to pay for devices, accessories, network security, cloud back up and storage.

Butler said the Strong Start initiative also includes a mental health counseling component at no extra cost to the school system.

“By becoming a 1:1 school district, this will allow us an opportunity for equality and access to education for all of our students,” Butler said. “Each student will have his or her own device, and we can continue to provide lessons virtually.”

Professional development regarding the Strong Start has started for administrators and will be offered to teachers over the summer.

While summer school has been scheduled for July 6-17, district leaders are still deciding whether it will be face-to-face or virtual.

Additionally, Butler said CDC guidelines would have to be considered for a face-to-face return to school in August. He discussed frequent sanitation of buses and potentially delivering school lunches to classrooms instead of bringing children to the cafeteria.

Parents who submitted public comments to the School Board meeting expressed a need for a plan. They asked if parents will parents be given a choice in how their child’s education will be conducted, whether virtually or in-person?

Board members responded that parents will receive surveys about their preference of virtual, face-to-face and blended learning.

Several parents expressed concerns over the health and safety of special education students and identified the need for a SPED Committee to foster communication. One parent pointed out that many of the children in the SPED program have medical conditions that deem them high risk for COVID-19, and virtual lessons may not be possible for these students. She cited a need to ensure individualized education plans are followed and that students can continue receiving speech and occupational therapy services.

Board member Ali Burl III suggested hiring an independent auditor to look into the special education program.

“From speaking to other parents with SPED children, they are not getting the services that they need,” Burl said.

Following the discussion, School Board President Patrick Sanders gave an update on the St. John superintendent search process. He said the process has yielded 36 applications thus far since launching in the spring under the direction of JG Consulting. The first two rounds of candidate interviews will take place between June 15 – 30, date, time and location to be announced.

The following students were also honored during last week’s School Board meeting for outstanding test scores:

Michael Reeves – 10th grade STEM – 850 on LEAP 2025 English II

Niall Pierce – 2020 ESJ Salutatorian – 36 on ACT Reading; WorkKeys Level: Platinum

Chloe Revere – 2020 Top 10 ESJ Graduate – 36 on ACT Reading

Jose Folgar – 2020 Top 10 ESJ Graduate – 34 composite on the ACT; WorkKeys Level: Platinum

Tamiyah Gross – 2020 Top 10 ESJ Graduate – 29 composite on the ACT; WorkKeys Level: Platinum

India Paul – 2020 Top 10 ESJ Graduate – 27 composite on the ACT

Aaliyah Bailey – 2020 WSJ Salutatorian – WorkKeys Level: Platinum

Olivia Eliser – 2020 Top 10 ESJ Graduate – WorkKeys Level: Platinum

Tyler Rodman – 2020 ESJ Graduate – WorkKeys Level: Platinum

Neira Spain – 2020 Top 10 ESJ Graduate – WorkKeys Level: Platinum

Joshua Stoker – 2020 ESJ Graduate – 30 composite on the ACT; WorkKeys Level: Platinum

Joel Tumblin – 2020 ESJ Graduate – WorkKeys Level: Platinum