Palestine confronts technology roadblocks

EAST PALESTINE — The COVID-19 pandemic has changed what school looks like for students and faculty. However, much like many other schools in the area, the East Palestine School District has gotten off to a strong start despite the obstacles surrounding social distancing and cleanliness.

With 28 percent of students in the district utilizing the Bulldog Online Academy, technology is the number one challenge it faces, according to Superintendent Chris Neifer. Whether it’s technical difficulty or the challenge of online learning in general, providing resources has been the district’s biggest roadblock.

“We expected to have some of those tech issues,” Neifer said at Monday’s school board meeting. “We are working on putting together a help desk for our remote learners. We have one here in the district, and we are working on modifying that.”

Dealing with students with disabilities online has been an obstacle as well. Each student has their own individual learning plan, so it’s taken the district a little time to get some of the minor setbacks ironed out.

The district is currently in phase one of the back-to-school plan, which is full, in-person instruction with the option of remote. Neifer said they are also prepared to enter into phase two and three, which are hybrid learning and completely online learning.

“We’ve worked all of the little things out, and we’re ready for that, but hopefully we won’t need to go there,” Neifer said. “But if we do, we have everything in place. The only thing we’re waiting on is technology.”

To help prepare for the possibility of phase two or three, the district has 250 computers on back order, which they ordered in May. Neifer said they’d like to practice phase two and three as a district, but without the technology, it doesn’t make much sense. Right now, the district plans to practice phase two in the first week of November.

Despite the roadblock of technology, the district received $78,000 from the BoardbandOhio connectivity grant to spend on equipment that provides wifi connectivity for students. After originally asking for $129,000, the district has hoping to buy 100 laptops, 60 iPads and 60 hotspots for the district. Those numbers will drop down, but they will still pursue the same equipment. The money must be spent by Dec. 31.

“We are in the process of trying to find a company, and that’s the hard part,” Neifer said. “Nobody has technology. You just can’t get it, and everything is backordered. So, we will keep everyone posted on that.”

In other news, homecoming has been a hot topic, given the social distancing guidelines. While Neifer acknowledged the difficult reality of holding a school dance right now, he stressed that they’d like to honor the students similarly to how they did with senior night.

“We want to make sure we honor our kids and tradition,” Neifer said. “We are still working on it, and nothing is set in stone, but we are working with the kids to put something together.”

The homecoming date has been moved to Oct. 2, and the district is working with the students to figure out a strategy that includes traditional homecoming voting and other normal aspects of a typical homecoming.

The next regularly scheduled school board meeting is set for 6 p.m. Oct. 5.



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