New rules for virtual learning lead to frustration from parents

Keeping Schools Safe

JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) – Today Tennessee’s Washington County Schools started their first day of virtual learning in 2021 with new guidelines, leading to frustrations from parents.

Lisa Hartmann has three children that attend Washington County Schools.

“They’re in 7th, 4th and 3rd grade at West View Elementary,” Hartmann said.

Lisa Hartmann’s children Garrett, Parker and Charlotte attend West View Elementary.

Hartmann said she and her husband work full-time and struggle to keep up with their kids’ virtual learning schedules.

“Three kids with different times,” Hartmann said. “It’s frustrating for us.”

Hartmann said just before Christmas break she received a letter from the school system outlining new rules for virtual learning in 2021.

The new policy requires students to attend live classes, keep their video on and sit upright while in the virtual classroom.

“They’re very worried about not getting on their meets in time,” Hartmann said. “With all the new rules, they’re stressed.”

Washington County, Tennessee Schools Director Dr. Bill Flanary said the rules are to improve engagement in the classroom.

“We’re just wanting to foster a better engagement with our children at all grade levels with their teacher because only good things can happen,” Flanary said. “We want to simulate what goes on in a regular classroom.”

Flanary said families should reach out to their school administrators if they feel like they need accommodations.

“We’re going to help them out, nobody’s going to be counted absent,” Flanary said. “We’re going to make arrangements, so they get what they need.”

Dr. David Timbs, Director of Secondary and Instructional Technology at Johnson City Schools, said the rules for virtual learning in their school system were set in place through a handbook at the start of the school year.

“Dress code was, of course, very important,” Timbs said. “Any rules we have at school have still applied in the online environment.”

Timbs said more specific rules, such as whether cameras are on or off, are up to teachers.

Hartmann said it isn’t clear to her what constitutes an excused or an unexcused absence through the Washington County Public Schools’ new guidelines.

“Christmas when it snowed we had no internet, you know, weather can affect it, and so I just don’t know if that’s going to be an excused absence,” Hartmann said. “Nobody’s gone over that.”

Hartmann said she hopes the school board will consider challenges families like hers are facing at the next school board meeting.

“I would hope that they could figure out a way to do at least 50% in person,” Hartmann said. “At least figure out the rules to make it so it’s something parents can actually adhere to.”

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