Coronavirus file photo stock of homework packets

Grade-appropriate homework packets are arranged in a plastic file container awaiting parent pickup at the front of the Oakdale Elementary School in Brandon, Miss., Thursday, March 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Students in St. Helena Parish will likely start school early — but virtually — in the 2020-21 school year to iron out any kinks in the local district's online learning model.

The school board will take up the district's "Jumpstart 2020" proposal Thursday night. Superintendent Kelli Joseph hopes to start students strictly online on July 14, on a limited schedule.

The move was in part spurred by difficulties in immediately offering online learning when the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to close this spring.

"It was a hard transition moving into that so we're hoping to be more prepared and kind of soften the blow," Joseph said.

The district has been allocated $770,000 of CARES Act funding for its 1,200 students, Joseph said. The money will be used for teacher professional development, student laptops and personal protective equipment.

The district also had two days this week — Tuesday and Thursday — devoted to Wi-Fi hot spot distribution to families that need them to connect to the internet at home.

Some other districts, like Tangipahoa Parish, have already decided to offer three models of learning next year: traditional face-to-face classroom learning, online-only education or a combination of the two.

St. Helena Parish isn't committing to any one model yet, but Joseph said the early start in an online format will give kids and families a head start on using the technology.

"At the end of the day, whatever model we select, at the backbone of everything will be e-learning, so if (students) go back to face-to-face learning we'll still have e-learning modules," Joseph said.

Joseph said when schools closed earlier this year, teachers immediately started working on an online model and were quick to survey parents on which learning style works best for their family. So there is still the possibility that an online model may be offered more permanently in the future.

"We're such a small staff we have to be ahead of the game," she said.

The proposal will be that teachers return in early July for four days of intensive professional development preparing for students' return. Students would return to school July 14 and do two weeks of online learning four days a week for three hours per day. 

School would officially start back Aug. 3, though it has not yet been determined whether that will be with kids at home or in a school building.

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