JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — School districts around the region have been in remote learning since March. Some students haven’t been heard from since then.
“In March when we had to stop traditional school operations and finally close for the year, there were some students that we hadn’t heard from from that time,” said Sullivan County Schools Superintendent Dr. David Cox. “So, we’ve been working to establish those contacts with our students and have been fairly successful. There are still a few students that we haven’t yet heard from.”
While Sullivan County, Kingsport City, and Johnson City Schools couldn’t provide an exact number of students who have fallen through the cracks, all three districts say it’s a small portion of students.
“Counselors have been checking on students as well as our mental health counselors that we have through Frontier Health, so the number is small,” said Johnson City Schools Superintendent Dr. Steve Barnett. “People are just trying to make sure they identify which students they haven’t located and then you’ve gotta go out into the home and phone calls, emails…then knock on doors see if you can find students.”
Barnett is on Gov. Bill Lee’s “Whole Child” Task Force. He says meal distribution has been helpful in making sure students stay in touch.
“With a new school year, being remote, one of the things that was really important to each of our schools was to make sure that we went out and do well checks,” Barnett said. “We have staff assigned during this remote learning time to go out and check on students we weren’t able to locate and find and we’ve been in the process of doing that for the [first few weeks of school].”
Kingsport City Schools says their meal distribution also helped them to keep in touch with the most vulnerable students.
“During the summer we didn’t do as much of the transportation piece because of federal guidelines and right now federal guidelines still have us limited [as opposed to] how we were able to do that in the spring,” said Kingsport City Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Moorhouse. “We’re going out in much the same fashion not just trying to provide but also trying to make sure we can account for as many kids as possible.”
In the region’s largest district, Sullivan County, principals have narrowed down the students who haven’t logged on.
“They have that whittled down into the single digits but some of the schools will be using the help of the school resource officers to make home visits just to check in on the kids they haven’t heard from yet,” Cox said. “It’s more challenging now trying to do that work just because of all the limitations imposed on us as a society because of COVID-19…the physical distancing and those kinds of things. But, when we can establish a contact and find out where they are then, that’s when we can have the conversation with them.”
With adaptations to online learning, teachers have a lot on their plates.
“Teachers are seeing students on Zoom or Google Meet and so they’re making face to face contacts there, but that will be something that we will be really targeting on is trying to identify where we haven’t found students, have counselors follow up on that, administrators follow up on that to try to find out what those reasons are,” said Moorhouse.
Moorhouse is also on Gov. Lee’s “Child Well-Being” Task Force. He says he thinks school districts will need assistance if required to do in-home checks.
“That responsibility needs to go to other agencies other than the schools if that’s what’s going to happen because right now a lot more responsibilities are shifting to the schools right now in regards to contact tracing,” Moorhouse said.
All three districts say it’s normal for student numbers to shift in the first few weeks of the school year.
“Students come in and register from all parts of the country and also where we’re trying to find the students who have moved away over the summer,” Barnett said. “It’s just part of our normal process the first few weeks of school.”
The state’s website has some guidance for “Well Being Assessments” but the hope is that in-person learning will return sooner rather than later.
“Right now, we’re going through our list of students who haven’t logged in yet virtually or that we haven’t been able to make contact with…trying to identify if those issues have been due to login problems with some of our student management system or our learning management systems, trying to know if that’s internet connectivity or just trying to know if that’s a student we have on our roll that they’ve maybe moved and we can’t account for right now,” Moorhouse said.