MANCHESTER, Ky. (KT) – Like every other school in the country, Oneida Baptist Institute is trying to figure it out.
“There is no blueprint for this,” said school president Larry Gritton. “As of now, we’re hoping to bring kids to campus and rebuild the boarding (program) the following year.”
Oneida Baptist will welcome about 125 community students to in-person classes sometime in August, depending on what happens until that time, Gritton said. International students can take online classes either in the states or abroad.
“We’re not going to have enough boarding kids to justify running the boarding portion of the ministry,” he said. “We shifted gears at the end of last week to function, hopefully, as an in-person day student.”
Gritton said the school will be following all the guidelines of social distancing. He said having the community students only goes back to the school’s roots.
“It’s how we were founded. We’ve grown in that area," he said. "Seven years ago, we had less than 10 local kids but now we have more than 100. We made some intentional efforts to bring them back.”
The school is known by many for boarding international students and some have remained in the area without a way to return home, Gritton said.
The option to teach them through online programs in the states only became legal after the Trump administration rescinded an order two days ago. The policy had been that international students had to be in-person students only. They lifted that order in March so the students could finish the school year.
“Most of us assumed they’d continue with that,” Gritton said. “But they didn’t. The order was that the kids cannot be here in the states and do an online program. They can do an online from home. But yesterday (Tuesday), the Trump administration rescinded that order. We had kids thinking they were going to have to leave Kentucky. We had some from Ethiopia who had no way to return home.”
However, there weren’t enough boarding students to keep that part of the program open, at least for the 2020-21 school year, Gritton said.
“While it breaks my heart not to have any boarding students, I am excited to see most of our resources, efforts, time and focus go toward our local students and families,” he said. “The Lord’s direction to reach back into our local community several years ago has driven lots of decisions and now gives us even greater cause to operate for the sake of the mountain children for the 2020-21 school year.”
The plan is to return with boarding students in the 2021-22 school year, he said.
Gritton, who graduated from OBI in 1993 and has been the school president since 2013, said they will be able to minister in their backyard in Clay County. which he says is an area “ripe for harvest.”
Local students attend Oneida at no charge. International student tuition and fees constituted one-third of the budget and they will collect some online fees but it will make up less than 10 percent of the budget, he said.
“We have many fixed costs, no matter the number of students,” Gritton said. “We are grateful for our financial partners and will need support more than ever.”
As for sports this fall, the school president said he is taking a wait-and-see approach. He said it wouldn’t surprise him for there to be no prep sports this fall for anyone. They will offer volleyball, cross country and possibly basketball if permitted by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.
The Cooperative Program through the Kentucky Baptist Convention helps support the school along with many other donors.