The Hall County School District has cut parent options for a noon to 5 p.m., one classroom model for students in grades K-3 to just one school, Sugar Hill Elementary, after family interest began to dwindle, Assistant Superintendent Kevin Bales said Wednesday.
Bales said the district initially offered the option in seven different elementary schools, but lack of parent interest has led to a gradual consolidation of the program. He said “roughly 10 to 12 parents” are still showing interest in the noon to 5 p.m. option at Sugar Hill.
“At the end of the day, this has been driven by our parents and their options and their choices, not us trying to get rid of it,” Bales said. “We’re the ones that proposed it as a possibility.”
The program was intended to consolidate a number of K-3 students at a school in each cluster, where they would take classes in a single classroom from a single teacher with no class changes. The intention of the plan was to give parents a safer option for allowing their children to return to in-person schooling that would not involve co-mingling with large amounts of students.
Up until Tuesday, Aug. 18, the district had been planning to offer the noon to 5 p.m. option at Mount Vernon Exploratory School as well as Sugar Hill, but when the number of interested parents in the Mount Vernon cluster fell to “about four or five,” Bales said the program there had to be cut. Parents of K-3 students anywhere in Hall County can still choose the noon to 5 p.m. option, but they will be fully responsible for transportation to and from Sugar Hill Elementary.
Matt Alexander, Hall County Schools’ elementary director of literacy and numeracy, told The Times last month that around 200 parents had shown interest in the program, but Bales said that number has dropped over the past month as parents have grown more familiar with the precautionary measures the school district is taking for standard, face-to-face instruction.
“They’ve been getting comfortable with the procedures that have been put in place,” he said. “They see arrows on the halls. They see teachers wearing masks. They see students that are visiting orientation and open house wearing masks. And so that’s been a very positive thing.”
Bales said school principals have reached out to interested parents every time a school has been cut from the program, adding that “a lot of times” the parents have chosen to send their students back to regular, in-person learning at their home school. He said he believes the announced “controlled opening,” through which only half of students will be attending face-to-face classes per school, Monday through Thursday for the first two weeks of the year, has had a positive impact on parents still on the fence about in-person instruction.
“Since they’ve monitored the Hall County schools controlled opening with half students starting next week, I think they’ve been comforted by that fact, and some of those parents that were once interested in the K-3, one classroom, one teacher model, I think they have been comforted and realize that in-person may very well work for them this year,” he said.
Bales said the school board hopes the district can follow through on the last noon to 5 p.m. option at Sugar Hill, but added that it may also be cut if parent interest drops any more than it already has.
“It’s one of those things where we have to understand, that’s all about parent choices and options,” he said. “We were glad to offer it, but unfortunately it doesn’t seem like many are going to take us up on it.”