UPDATED — Dr. Mark Sullivan announced in a Wednesday press conference that all Birmingham City Schools would be starting the school year virtually on Aug. 24. Sullivan, the interim superintendent for BCS, made the announcement with Birmingham Board of Education members.
All learning will be online for the first nine-week grading period. BCS will evaluate the safety of returning to in-person learning after that.
“This decision was not made lightly, but at this juncture I believe it is our best option to assure the quality of education that we have for our students and to maintain a safe, nurturing environment for all of our students,” Sullivan said.
On July 17, Sullivan announced that virtual learning was one of three possibilities for how teachers would teach students. The other options were face to face and a blended approach where students would go to school on certain days and learn from home other days.
Additionally, parents have the option of having their students learn from home, regardless of what BCS decides to do at the end of the first nine weeks of school.
Many other school systems are taking similar action to ensure the well-being of their students.
Midfield City Schools are starting Aug. 25 and will be virtual for the first nine weeks while Bessemer City Schools will be virtual for the first four weeks. Some school systems will go into the year with a blended approach, having students come in to school on certain days and learning from home other days.
At the state level, Governor Kay Ivey sent $70 million to the Alabama State Department of Education’s Education Health and Wellness Grant Program. She also allocated $100 million to the Education Remote Learning Devices Grant Program.
Sullivan said he would rather have students attending classes in schools, but the risk was not worth it. “Lives are at stake if we bring thousands of students into buildings with hundreds of employees.”
BCS will be providing devices to all students and are working to get internet hotspots to students who may not have adequate internet connectivity. Sullivan acknowledged that many students would not be able to learn if left on their own.
“One of the things this pandemic has taught us is that there is a true, digital divide among students,” he said.
Sullivan went on to reassure parents that BCS would provide forums on how to help students navigate their devices. He finished with a plea for parents to register their students and gave encouragement that students, parents and teachers would make it through the conflict.
“As a family, we are going to work through this issue,” he said.