Sullivan County BOE approves return to in-person learning

Keeping Schools Safe

BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — The Sullivan County Board of Education approved a plan Thursday evening for students to return to in-person learning.

Beginning Monday, Sept. 28, students in grades K–8 will return to school four days a week with Wednesdays reserved for virtual learning only.

Students in all grades will return to school five days a week after fall break on Oct. 19. The virtual academy will continue through the end of the semester. Parents can also choose for their students to stay in remote learning. That decision will need to be made by Wednesday, Sept. 23.

Dr. Cox says 35% of students have chosen the virtual option for the semester meaning only about 65% would be back in the buildings.

Sullivan County students began the school year with total online instruction before the school system moved to a hybrid model beginning Aug. 24.

The board approved the measure in a 5–2 vote with Mark Ireson and Michael Hughes voting against the amended plan arguing that those who want to go to school in -person completely aren’t being accommodated.

“The only group we’re not allowing to have that option is the ones that say ‘I want my kids to be in school face-to-face every day,” Ireson said.

Another issue the district is dealing with- a startling number of students falling behind.

“The failure rates in the high schools are really really high,” Hughes said ahead of the meeting. “In at least one school, 46% are failing one or more subjects.”

Several people spoke ahead of the vote- all asking for a return to the classroom.

“I don’t learn much online. It’s hard to find out if my assignments get on there,” Ketron Elementary third grader, Jessie Robins said. “Sometimes I turn in assignments and my teacher doesn’t get them.”

Daphne Williams helps her 5-year-old granddaughter and great-niece with schooling since their parents work. She says both of them are in the same class but go to school in-person on opposite days and that online schooling just isn’t working for them.

“In a classroom, a teacher has an opportunity to say, ‘Okay, they’ve mastered this, let me give them something a little bit harder to keep them interested’,” Williams said.

The original plan was announced by Dr. David Cox on Wednesday and comes as the county appears to be moving out of the “red zone” with COVID-19 cases.

“We’ve been red in just about every measure and then today,” Cox said. “It’s lagging data… but we did come into the “yellow zone” with the White House Task Force.”

The board has another meeting on Oct. 9 where current numbers and attendance decisions will be discussed before everyone is slated to go back fully after fall break.

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