School Board Member Says Children First When Making COVID Decisions

Hamilton County, TN – During the Hamilton County School Board meeting on Monday, December 7th, a school board member spoke up to express the critical need to get children back in school.

After spending the morning with her granddaughter trying to help her with her classwork online, District 1 School Board Member Rhonda Thurman said she feels the pain of the parents.

“I just don’t know what people are going to do and what we expect them to do,” Thruman said.

Thurman stated that instead of just looking at COVID cases, the school board needs to look at how the closures, hybrid/online learning, and COVID in general is actually affecting the schools.

She voiced that even when schools are open, many teachers are at school a few days and then off ten days, and then back again a couple of days and then off ten again, all due to potential contact to the virus.

“We’re going to have to get a handle on that, ” Thurman said.

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson stated, “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.”

He stated this is a problem that is happening state and nationwide – trying to operate a complex system with too few people.

Thurman said that the definition of “potential contact” needs to be looked at more carefully.

“Were you in the same room with somebody? Were you in the same bed with somebody? Were you in the same car with somebody? Were you in the same restaurant as somebody? Were you in the same church as somebody? Those things all look a whole lot different, ” Thurman said.

Thruman stated that what the school system is calling “educating students” is far from that at current.

“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.”

Thurman stated that they need to take a long, hard look at how COVID is being dealt with in schools and how it is actually affecting students and use that as the center-point for any decisions made going forward.

“What we’re doing to the students is just not right. These kids need to be in school. They need to be with their friends. They need to have some hope. We’ve already taken so much away from them,” Thurman said. “We are going to have to get these kids in the classroom with a teacher, especially at the elementary school age.”

Johnson said “I wake up every morning feeling like I’m in a no-win situation in trying to maneuver this. I don’t make decisions to make everybody happy. We make decisions based on what we feel is best first and foremost for children.”

“Generally, you can get consensus in where you need to be in the decision-making process. This situation is so political and so divided, there’s just not a clear-cut answer,” Johnson said.

To that end, the Hamilton County School System has issued a survey to parents regarding how best to deal with COVID-19 and education.

“We’re looking to get feedback around, not so much the criteria for thresholds, but how we might operate within the thresholds based on what we have learned and the data that we have.”

He stated that one of the things parents have voiced concerns about is getting consistent information so they do not feel uninformed or like everything is swinging back and forth with school openings, closures, online only, etc.

“We are also looking to get feedback on the survey around explicitly how much time is needed between announcements of phases and decisions and things of that matter,” Johnson said.

Johnson stated that the school will continue to do daily email blitzes of the survey to make sure all the parents receive it and that if parents have not received it, they can reach out to the schools.

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