FOX CHAPEL, Pa. (KDKA) – Ohio State University opened a lot of eyes when the Buckeyes announced there will be no more in-person classes or seminars for the rest of March. That decision came from fears of the spread of coronavirus.
Now, at least one school district in the Pittsburgh area says it is ready if its students can’t go to school, and it is only possible because of the use of technology.
More than 4,000 students are enrolled in the Fox Chapel Area School District. Their district administrators say they have been working on a contingency plan for weeks.
“I am very proud of our staff and the extra effort that they have put in in a very short period of time in order to try and make sure that we are as prepared as we can be,” says David McCommons, Deputy Superintendent of the Fox Chapel Area School District.
Maintenance and custodial staff have already been using hospital-grade disinfectants to clean all hard surfaces in every building every day. There are bottles of hand sanitizer on mostly every desk. Large canisters of cleaning wipes are everywhere in the district buildings.
The school nurses have been teaching the youngest students how to most effectively and thoroughly wash their hands. They encourage everyone to cough or sneeze into their sleeve rather than their hand. They are doing all they can to keep their children healthy.
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However, Fox Chapel has hammered out a plan for what to do if the spread of coronavirus means the kids could not go to school.
“Is it going to be perfect? No,” admits McCommons. “We understand that, and the big concern with the coronavirus is the unknown and until we are really into it, we are going to have to continue to problem solve on a daily basis to make sure we are tailoring our educational needs to our students.”
That involves doing a technology assessment for every student in the district. Each family is asked what kind of computer devices they have in the house. Is there internet access?
In order to make the plan work, there has to be technology at home. Some students do not have that. Maybe a student needs a laptop. Perhaps an iPad would work. The district has enough devices to loan them to students in need.
That is just part of the puzzle. Without internet access, none of that matters.
Fox Chapel says they have that covered, too. Portable MiFi units will be sent home with students to provide WiFi access if they don’t already have it at home.
If the plan goes into effect, classes could meet remotely. Teachers would be able to hold office hours and video chats online. Assignments can be made and turned in by students remotely. School would go on, even if the teachers are not at school
Cheryl Beckas is the Technology Services Manager for Fox Chapel Schools.
“We have extra laptops that we are going to give out to staff who don’t have computers at home,” says Beckas. “That would be for staff that uses a desktop computer here, but doesn’t have a laptop.”
Teachers and administrators acknowledge that parents may need to do more to help with their children’s education, but with state mandates for days of instruction and end-of-year testing, the teaching cannot stop.
“We are ready to initiate the plan,” says McCommons. “I feel that we are ready to ensure the safety and the well-being of our students, staff, parents, and educational community.”
Through the whole process, the district will have a Technology Help Desk Service available for families.