Ware County schools shifting to hybrid learning for 1 month

WARE COUNTY, Fla. – The Ware County School System will adopt a hybrid instructional model from Sept. 7 through Oct. 7 due to the number of COVID-19 cases in the county and the surrounding area, the school system said.

The school system in Southeast Georgia announced Aug. 30 that students will have face-to-face instruction two days a week and will receive assignments to complete at home the remainder of the week.

“This model will allow us to support social distancing practices by decreasing the number of students in the building and on buses each day, provide a dedicated day for deep cleaning each week on Fridays, and help address staff shortage issues,” the school system said.

Ware County Superintendent Bert Smith told News4Jax he has been in contact with the chief operating officer of the local hospital and health department officials while making the decision. Smith said that Ware County has a 22% transmission rate of COVID-19 currently, and he wants that number to fall below 10%.

“We want our kids back by all means, 100%,” Smith said. “But, for right now, this is the best move at the time.”

Students will be broken into two groups based on the last name of the oldest student in the household, and all students in that household will attend face-to-face on the same days to assist families with establishing a consistent schedule.

Students with last names beginning with A-K are “Group A,” and they will attend school face-to-face on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Students with last names beginning with L-Z are “Group B,” and they will attend school face-to-face on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

In addition, effective immediately, masks will be required on all school buses. Drivers will provide students with a mask if needed.

The announcement of the shift to hybrid learning comes after the school system made the decision Aug. 13 to put the school year -- which started Aug. 4 -- on hold due to a rise in COVID-19 cases among students and staff. The school district ceased daily operations for traditional and digital students and most staff members in all 11 schools through Aug. 27, and the plan was students would not return to school until Sept. 7.

Smith said the hybrid model is the safest process for returning back to school.

“I’m afraid if we go back to where we were, 100% capacity, we would be quarantined, contact-tracing, sending kids home,” Smith said.

Danielle Scott has two boys in middle school. She said it’s going to be hard to help her boys with their classes during the hybrid schedule.

“I dont like it,” Scott said. “I just know he had it last year, and it didn’t work out too well. He did better going back to school second semester.”

But she said she understands how it’s protecting them from being exposed to COVID-19 at school.

“They’re safe. I don’t have to worry about COVID,” Scott said. “I’ve seen what it can do to people.”

Ninth grader Molly Smith said she won’t mind the new plan.

“I think it’s good,” Smith said. “It’s good we’re in school and not shut down.”

Though Ware County students have been in classrooms for more than two weeks, sports have not shut down. Smith said she has still been playing softball games and attending practices

The superintendent said Gator All-Star Academy will start Nov. 1, providing students a chance to get tutoring after school hours.

Schools will be reaching out to families with additional information about the hybrid instructional model. Parents are asked to make sure ensure their child’s school has updated contact information. Parents with questions are asked to email feedback@ware.k12.ga.us.

About the Author:

Brie Isom joined the News4JAX team in January 2021 after spending three years covering news in South Bend, Indiana.