CHARLES TOWN – Jefferson County Schools, building upon the online instruction it launched while school buildings were first closed in March during the coronavirus outbreak, plan to give students greater choices to pursue virtual courses and programs during the next school year.

Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson said in a press statement released Monday that the expanded access to online instruction, in addition to giving students and parents with another flexible learning option, will prepare the system to continue to teach all students in case coronavirus restrictions close schools again anytime during the upcoming school year.

“It is important that the families of Jefferson County know that we have the technology and infrastructure to continue educating their children remotely if that’s what serves their families best,” Gibson was quoted in the prepared statement.

School officials had said before the virus outbreak that they wanted to offer a broader array of online courses for students. Those efforts included a pilot program two years ago that offered virtual instruction for middle school students.

Gibson decided on March 23 amid the virus outbreak to close Jefferson County’s schools for the rest of the current school year. Gov. Jim Justice would order all schools statewide closed for the rest of the year on April 21.

The county school system plans to use the Google Classrooms platform to keep learning and instruction uniform and consistent for all of its students, school administrators reported. Teachers are also continuing to train on the best practices and tools available for virtual instruction, officials also stated.

Instructional videos have also been created and archived on the school system’s website.

Two weeks ago the school board approved a $274,00 purchase of 1,000 laptop computers to allow students without home computers to borrow to conduct lessons. The Chromebook laptops are being purchased with federal funding.

 Meanwhile, the school system is working to establish internet access “hotspots” at several school campuses where students can visit to download or turn in classroom assignments conducted at home.

The school system recently conducted a survey that found that about 8 percent of its students—about 716 students—either had no internet access or had very slow internet access at home. About half of the students with internet access use a desktop or laptop computer to connect online, and the other half use a smartphone, tablet or another device that school officials consider inadequate for remote learning.

The survey drew responses from about 40 percent of the school system’s 8,950 students, a typical response rate for the school system, according to Hans Fogle, the public information officer for county schools.

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