Published August 25, 2021
The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
Leaders from Williamson County Schools and Franklin Special School District are asking legislators to reinstate virtual learning options for schools that they believe need to be closed temporarily due to the current spike in COVID-19 cases.
District leaders penned a letter to Senator Jack Johnson, Representative Glen Casada, Representative Brandon Ogles, and Representative Sam Whitson. It was signed by both Williamson County superintendent Jason Golden and Franklin Special Schools Director David Snowden.
WCS school board member Eric Welch first shared the letter on Twitter. He later deleted it, saying he did so because he prematurely shared it before the superintendent finished conversations regarding the issue.
The letter asks Governor Lee to permit schools to reinstate usage of the Continuous Learning Plans that were created last year. This request comes as reports of rising COVID-19 cases continue across the state, especially in young people.
“We ask that you urge the Governor and the State Board of Education to immediately allow districts to resume their Continuous Learning Plans (CLPs) to address the current COVID surge,” the letter states.
As a part of last year’s response to COVID-19, school systems could choose to switch to remote learning as needed, based on their individual CLPs. This allowed schools to function virtually if student cases rose or if there was a teacher shortage due to COVID-19.
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A new state law eliminated the use of those plans this year, requiring districts to create virtual schools that were separate if they wanted to offer an online option for parents.
This year, affected school districts must instead use days that are stockpiled for inclement weather if they find they need to close a school. This means there is no instruction provided on those days.
A number of systems across the state have already closed individual schools temporarily.
Carter County Schools shut down Monday due to teacher and bus driver absences and a lack of substitutes to fill those spots. Other systems have already had similar temporary closures.
Fairview Middle School in Williamson County closed last week because of a 33% absence rate among students and a 30% absence rate among staff members.
“Our students could have received instruction had the CLP been in place,” said Golden. “Instead, they received no instruction Friday because that tool was removed from our toolbox.”
The letter states that both school systems are “close to the crisis point” and that some instruction provided through virtual means is better than no instruction at all. School systems that use all of their inclement weather days will be forced to make up those days during spring break or summer.
FSSD says the number of cases of COVID-19 has “nearly quadrupled” after the first week of school. They are not the only school system with similar numbers.
Dyersburg City School System announced that they have seen nearly as many positive cases among students since school started in July as they did during the entire first semester of last year. Their school board voted to reinstate a mask mandate, allowing parents to opt their children out as mandated by Governor Lee’s recent executive order.
Many systems across the state have already implemented additional measures to “help lessen the spread of COVID-19,” including masking, social distancing, limiting visitors, and holding events virtually instead of in person.
Both WCS and FSSD school leaders also noted that TCAP and TNReady scores above the state average in their districts showed that they had success with remote learning when used in moderation, and the believe that schools should have the option to switch to learning “online when they needed it.”
“We need that tool back to continue our success this year,” they said.
About the Author:
Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Directory for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com