COVID-19 And Hamilton County Schools: One Year Later

Photo Credit: Public Domain

Published March 17, 2021 

The Tennessee Conservative Staff –

Hamilton County, TN – A lot can happen in a year. As of yesterday, March 16th, it was one year exactly since Hamilton County Schools closed its doors and transitioned to remote learning for what they originally thought would only be two weeks due to the appearance of COVID-19 in Tennessee. 

Chattanooga, Tennessee At Night

The students and staff did not return to school buildings for the rest of the school year, and according to Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson, “the way we approach educating our students has changed forever.” 

Through the summer months, Johnson stated, “we worked furiously alongside our teachers, parents, students, and community members to outline a plan for the 2021-2022 school year that offered a safe learning environment and robust instruction, whether students were learning at home or in person.” 

Johnson states that through the collaborative efforts over the summer and the buy-in of the HCS staff, students, families and community, Hamilton County Schools were able to open for in-person learning on August 12, 2020, making them the first large school district in the state of Tennessee to open schools. 

The schools were open for 84 days of in-person learning during the Fall semester. 

Johnson attributes this to the HCS staff, students and families being “committed to the healthy behaviors outlined in our HCS SAFE Pledge.” 

As the holidays approached, the entire country saw a surge in COVID-19 cases. 

“We were forced to transition to remote learning for all,” Johnson said. 

During a school board meeting on December 7th, amidst growing concern about learning loss and the effects remote learning was having on students and families, Johnson said, “I want to make decisions that are the best for children. At the same time, if I’ve got a building with 14 teachers that are close contacts or 4 or 5 positives and the others are close contacts in households and you only have 30 teachers total, it’s tough to operate that building.” 

 Johnson recently stated that, “Despite learning from home, our teachers and staff continued the momentum gained in the classroom and kept our students on track.” 

However, School Board Member Rhonda Thurman disagreed stating that “educating students” was far from that during the shutdowns. 

“The most at-risk students, the ones that we have spent so much time trying to close the achievement gap, we have just totally annihilated any progress that we made,” Thurman said. 

“We will never, never catch up the year’s-worth of education these students have lost,” Thurman said. “What we’re doing to these students, we’re never going to be able to fix.”

Now that COVID cases have lessened, Hamilton County Schools have transitioned away from using the Phase Tracker to dictate the school schedule stating that their COVID cases mirror that reported on the Hamilton County Health Department’s website

Johnson says that, “in-person learners can be in school five days a week for the rest of the school year.” 

Now that students are back in the classroom, the focus of HCS has turned to addressing learning loss and low literacy rates among students. 

Johnson states that there has been much talk, both Nationally and Statewide, about Summer programming and extended learning opportunities into the next school year but wants the focus to be on maximizing the present.  

With only 24 learning days left before Spring Break, Johnson says, “We have to continue to approach each day with urgency and to focus on closing as many gaps as possible.”  

“To be clear, we are continuing to plan for the days beyond this stretch but our most pressing focus is on the right now,” Johnson said.  

Johnson stated that the teachers and staff will be “focused on winning in the classroom” and he called on families in the community to follow up on homework, missed assignments and to reinforce the learning of the day. 

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