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Marion County among rural districts facing unique challenges as schools make plans

COVID-19 pandemic sharpens digital divide for rural students
Posted at 8:14 AM, Jul 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-30 08:14:16-04

MARION COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — School districts across the state are re-working nearly every aspect of school life due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but more rural districts face some unique challenges. Taylora Schlosser, superintendent of Marion County Schools, has a full plate.

"We are very committed to ensuring that our kids have a successful school year," Schlosser said.

The Marion County School District, like every school district in America, is gearing up for a year like no other. Currently, a survey is underway for parents to decide if they will send their kids back into the classroom when the semester begins on August 26th or keep them at home for virtual learning. That survey window closes on August 5th, and then a new set of work begins.

"We're going to need to do whatever it is that we need to do so that the children and the families that elect to come to school so that we can have school, and we can do that safely," said Schlosser.

Not only are they doing all the mandated things like keeping desks six feet apart, temperature checks, and providing PPE, Schlosser, and district officials will begin contacting families about their internet accessibility.

Schlosser explained, "I have had folks say to me, well, why don't you just pay for their internet. And I said, we would, but there are places in Marion County that there is no service."

Marion County is slightly ahead of the curve, all students ages 3rd grade and up are already outfitted with a Chrome Book, but internet connectivity is a challenge in rural America. Schlosser said they would be reaching out to families to talk one-on-one about how to solve each unique situation.

"We want to be very empathetic to a family member who has fears about sending their child back to school," Schlosser said.

The internet is not the only big concern on Schlosser's mind. She knows this has and continues to be a traumatic time for students, so the district has established social-emotional learning standards that will be part of the regular curriculum.

"It's very important to teach our children how to deal with those emotions. How you deal with your mental health. We will also be providing a resiliency survey for our children from 3rd grade through 12th grade, and so that'll give us an idea if we've got a child in crisis that maybe doesn't look like a child that would be in crisis," Schlosser said.
Licensed child clinical psychologist Michelle Martel said this is important, and she believes parents especially need to be attuned to how an atypical school year can affect their child.

"Certainly, it does," Martel said. "The uncertainty of the situation, I think, has particular consequences for mental health."

She said parents need to be on the lookout for certain signs that their kids may be struggling, things like being withdrawn, showing disinterest in activities they usually enjoy, or the inability to be consoled.

"I think in this environment, with the continued remote instruction, a lot of kiddos are going to need more social opportunities. And so just continuing to do what I think a lot of parents have been doing in terms of trying to find some, perhaps innovative, social opportunities for kids will be really important whether it's through virtual classrooms or Zoom or FaceTime or socially distanced outdoor activities," Martel explained.

With about a month to go, Schlosser knows a lot can change, and she said that is what they are preparing for, all in the best interest of the kids.

"We know this isn't going to be easy, but what's easy is not what is always best," Schlosser said.