Hamilton County, TN – Hamilton County Schools held a Spring Reentry Plan Town Hall Meeting on Zoom last night (Tuesday, December 15th) at 6PM.
The second semester of school for 2020-2021 will restart on a hybrid schedule based on current information. However, this will not be set-in-stone until a week before class resumes.
In regards to the situation surrounding COVID-19 and the scheduling and concerns due to it Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson said, “We never would have imagined in March of last year that we would be here. We know this has been incredibly challenging for you, and for us.”
Johnson went on to say that in this situation there is no playbook to follow so any plans made are subject to change and the current plan is not a school or child-specific operation manual.
He reported that following Halloween, the school system saw a spike in COVID cases that continued to rise with another spike following Thanksgiving. The spike in cases was in both students and staff.
However, Johnson stated that the “hot spots” for COVID was seen mostly in high school students partially due to their movement from class to class.
Deputy Superintendent Nakia Towns, stated that the research they have been following shows that students who are under 10 are less likely to get infected with covid-19 and also less likely to spread it to others.
“Studies are lining up to show that younger children are not significant contributors to the spread of COVID-19. High School kids and adults are more at risk,” Towns said.
Research, along with the wishes of parents and what Hamilton County teachers have experienced have led the leadership of the schools to have a schedule for K-3 upon reentry in January that places these students in front of teachers, in-person, to a much greater degree than for older students.
Potentially in Phase 2, K-3 will be on campus for four days a week with Wednesday as the Remote Learning Day. Only in Phase 1 will K-3 move to a A/B Hybrid schedule. The ideal class size for K-3 in Phase 1 is 10-14 students with a maximum of 25 allowed statutorily. The average across the county is currently at 17.
For K-5, exceptional Ed, ESL and other individual student groups will have in-person learning opportunities in Phase 1 similar to current modification during hybrid A/B schedules in Phase 2 for K-12.
For K-12, all schools serving multiple grade bands (i.e. K-5, K-8, 6-12) will follow the same schedule for each grade band.
In the recent survey issued by the Hamilton County School system, 16,000+ individual responses were received with 64.3% being parents. According to Johnson, the responses to the survey, along with State and CDC guidance and lead them to make their policy for the second semester.
The survey responses showed that 51.7% of parents and 72.4% of employees were in favor of a A/B schedule in January.
“Teachers want kids in school but there is also the desire to be safe,” Johnson said.
Wednesday was the winner for Remote Learning Day based on the survey responses with 53.1% of parents and 51.4% of employees in favor instead of Friday. There will be no change in the New Year to the Remote Learning Day for Hybrid Schedules. Parents also stated that setting a schedule and sticking to it makes planning easier.
The majority of survey respondents felt that any Phase changes should be communicated the same day they occur with 59.2% in favor. The phase tracker will continue to display a 5-day average and this number will be referenced for any changes to scheduling/policy. The phases will be updated on Tuesdays and any changes to scheduling will be announced at that time for the following Monday.
About 87% of respondents reported needing one week or less to prepare for learning mode changes in response to a phase change.
Overwhelmingly, survey respondents support some in-person learning options across all grade bands in Phase 2.
For Grades 4-12, students will continue hybrid A/B schedule for Phase 2 and fully remote for Phase 1 with some flexibility allowed for hybrid scheduling of grades 4-8 based on class sizes.
Johnson stated that with 8,000 students coming back into the school system in January, there will have to be pivots in school-based schedules to accommodate so it is not definitive whether students will have the same teachers going into second semester.
However, in any phase the school system is operating under, teachers of all grades will be on campus with special focus on K-3 staff.
Parents have the option to opt-in to HCS at home at any grade level.
Regarding the COVID vaccine, Johnson said that the District will be taking the state’s lead in any mandates concerning the vaccine.
“I do not see a path that leads to a mandate. It’s too early to know whether the vaccine will be available at school as flu shots are,” Johnson said.
Regarding mental health concerns during COVID, Johnson said, “Mental health has been at the top of our minds for a while now. The policy is to support the whole child. We not only try to make sure there is whole child support but also support for our faculty. Mental health components remain a main focus for us.”
Citing the accomplishments the Hamilton County School System made in comparison to other large school districts, Johnson stated that 40 schools in the district did not close a single day in order to shift to remote instruction. 22 schools closed 1-2 days. 10 schools closed 3-5 days and 5 schools closed 6+ days.
Johnson stated that there “absolutely could a place where we have to discuss where all students will be online…we’ll have those conversations so we can land in a place by Friday.”
On Friday, December 18th, HCS will make an announcement of the Final Recommendations for Reopening. This information will be distributed via the HCS website, social media and by email newsletter. This information may be subject to change and should only be used for planning purposes.