Johnson City parents discuss remote learning decision for kids

Keeping Schools Safe

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Johnson City Schools’ parents opting for their kids to learn from home are now trying to figure out how to make virtual learning work.

News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais spoke with two families who reached the decision not to send their children back to the schools they love.

Johnson City Schools parents have until Friday to enroll their kids for remote learning. For many, they’re watching the color coded system determined by local COVID-19 case counts.

Courtesy of the Tennessee Department of Health

Most school districts have entered the “yellow” phase of reopening as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in our region, while Washington County and Johnson City schools entered the ‘red zone’ of operations.

All of the school systems in this list go by a framework that hinges on the spread of the virus. Each plan details three “zones” under which schools will operate this fall, and each zone is determined by the 14-day average of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents.

With the exception of July 12, the Tennessee Department of Health reports that Washington County has not been below that “red” threshold since July 7th.

“The spring, the remote learning that occurred was voluntary and children were not graded and we weren’t necessarily following the school system’s curriculum,” Amber Lee said of her family. “This fall we will be, at this point that’s what the plan is.”

“My biggest concern was, I felt like the school had an excellent plan for in the green, in the yellow and then in the red zone – learning. However, I don’t believe that the in the red zone plan where it says the plan for in-person school in the red zone is that we’ll consider closing,” Lee told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais. “There’s no additional safety measures, nothing in the city school plan, and I’ve asked about it and haven’t gotten an answer, and so, the fact that we’re in the red zone, we’re in twice as many cases per hundred thousand people and I don’t think that they’re going to do anything outside of the yellow plan, so for me, that made the decision for me.”

Courtesy of Johnson City Schools

Amber Lee has a 10-year-old son entering the 5th grade and an 8-year-old daughter entering the third grade. She chose the remote learning option and has a plan for her kids’ success.

“For our family, we have gathered together what a lot of people across the country right now are doing, and we’ve created a learning pod, and it’s three families – there will be four children altogether, two are in 3rd grade and two are in 5th grade – and we will be working together to make sure that the children are completing their assignments or in front of a computer at the appropriate times,” she said. “I think every parent is concerned whether they are sending their children to school in-person or they’re doing remote learning, we’re all worried that our children aren’t going to get what they need.”

A neighbor of hers dedicated a large room for the pod of students to remotely learn in.

“We all want our children to be at school but we think that right now, it’s just not safe and it’s just not fair to put our children as well as their teachers, and the administrators, school staff, their bus drivers and everyone that supports the school system, it’s just not a fair situation for them, and so we are making accommodations. We’re going to all have to amend our schedules,” Lee explained. “For the children, we hope that working through, like, this friend group and who had stayed safe, have not had exposure, they’ll be able to get the proper socialization. But it’s hard, there is no elegant solution.”

The COVID-19 cases continuing to rise was, however, a deal-breaker for Lee, who praises the school system for all its hard work developing a reopening plan, but hoped for more.

“I absolutely considered my children’s personalities as well as their needs, and then what their father’s schedule is and what my schedule is, before really talking to the kids about this. Really until our area went into the red zone, I had really been leaning towards in-person learning, but once we met that red zone threshold and then surpassed it and have nearly doubled it now, we just didn’t see that the red zone plan was appropriate for in-person learning for us, for our family, and so, at that point, I talked to the children about what could happen and, you know, they didn’t want to go to school and have exposure, they didn’t want to get their friends sick, they didn’t want their friends to get them sick, they also don’t want to stay home, they don’t want to do remote learning, so this is – like I said – it’s an impossible situation for many parents,” she said.

Lee said she is concerned about the curriculum too.

“In the spring, the remote learning that occurred was voluntary and children were not graded and we weren’t necessarily following the school system’s curriculum. This fall we will be, at this point that’s what the plan is,” she said. “No one knows exactly what the curriculum and the expectations will be even after reading all of the remote and in-person learning plans. I hope that it is something that my children are capable of and that they’ll excel at and can do like they did in-person school. There’s a lot of unknowns, but thankfully our school system has given us some options and thankfully we can change those options if our needs are not being met or if the situation changes.”

Jodi Jones is a Washington County Commissioner and a mom who has chosen remote learned for her 15-year-old rising sophomore, and her 12-year-old rising 7th grader.

He would have gone to a new school.

“We didn’t know, even still, if it was the right decision or best decision, it is just the decision we came to after all those conversations and all that thinking,” Jones told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.

She said in the decision-making process, including children is sometimes prudent.

“I think the decision about going online versus in-school is one that parents should involve their children in, but convey early on that the parents are going to make the decision. I don’t think kids want to be blindsided by keeping it a secret and the all of a sudden this revelation, so we hinted to our children many times we were thinking about it,” she said.

Jones added that as the summer wore on, routines went out the window, and kids need structure before the new school year kicks off, especially if they are switching to remote learning.

“It wears on kids when things are kind of chaotic eventually, so to the extent that you’re able to – and I don’t mean scheduling every minute of the day, most parents don’t have the capacity to do that, I work, my husband works – but giving them a sense of what’s going to happen first, second, and third in their day, encouraging them to spend some time reading, doing something school-like, even if school’s not in session, I think is really important,” she explained.

Johnson City Schools Director of Instruction and Communication Dr. Debra Bentley said the following in a statement:

“We have received close to 1,300 applications for Remote Learning. We will be able to provide a more accurate number when the application process closes on Friday.”

For perspective, the Johnson City school district has just under 8,000 students. On Monday, Superintendent Steve Barnett reported that 1,000 families had applied for remote learning.

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