Washington Co., Tenn. parents working through virtual learning until the end of the month

Keeping Schools Safe

GRAY, Tenn. (WJHL)- Increasing spread of Covid-19 is causing some local school districts to alter their schedules and send students home. Tuesday, Washington County, Tennessee school leaders voted for the entire district to return to virtual learning until November 30th.

“I have a pre-k [student] that is supposed to be at circle time at 8:45, I have a third grader who has a google meet at 8:30 and I have a fifth grader who has a google meet at 9,” said Ridgeview Elementary School mom, Nicki Salyer.

Salyer’s three kids all have different needs, however, her son in fifth grade, has an Individualized Education Plan or IEP.

“It was a struggle before and he needs someone there with him 8 hours a day and it can’t be mom,” said Salyer. Her daughter in third grade is having a tough time with the transition as well. “Everything she needs, she’s got. She’s not really struggling. It’s just that social interaction that she needs and is suffering from not having it,” she said.

While some families want their kids back in the classroom- others are okay with the decision.

“I think it’s a necessity right now because there are so many unknowns,” said Ridgeview Elementary School parent, Cyrus Fees. “We don’t have a vaccine. People react to this thing differently, I think it’s the right thing to do even if it’s a tough thing to do.”

His son is in Kindergarten and his daughter is in second grade. He says they are both doing well with learning online, however, he does wish that a more permanent decision could be made.

“I kind of wish that we would have just went until the end of the year, until we get a handle on this and maybe we don’t have to jump back out again,” said Fees.

While they are on different sides of the issue, both Fees and Salyer want the school board to include parent input.

“They’ve shut us out of meetings. We’ve not been allowed to voice our concerns in person. Even though they’re on YouTube live we’re blocked from any of that,” said Salyer.

“It would be nice if the parents had a say as well if we could sit in on a board meeting if it was possible,” said Fees.

The Director of Schools said the decision came down due to so many people having to be in quarantine because of state guidelines.

“We were forced by those rules to quarantine so many people that it became very difficult to conduct business in these schools,” said Dr. Bill Flanary. “The board made a decision in the best interest of the health and safety of all students and also the employees of the school system.”

Dr. Flanary says the system is looking to hire across the board.

“I’m down bus drivers, I need instructional assistants, I need substitute teachers. We’re still good with licensed teachers… we’re actively hiring in just about every department,” said. Dr. Flanary.

Despite the staffing issue, Dr. Flanary says Washington County Schools are more equipped to handle virtual learning. The system purchased a little over 2500 Chromebooks with capital funds from the county commission.

“Not only can we provide one to everybody but we can start replacing some of the older obsolete models,” said Dr. Flanary.

Internet connectivity is also expected to be better as the semester rounds out.

“We have wireless hotspots in every campus parking lot. The BrightRidge will have all of their projects finished by the first of December,” Dr. Flanary said.

The Washington County Board of Education will meet again Thursday. Parents are allowed to speak at that meeting but must have requested to do so five days in advance of the meeting. The board does not plan to re-evaluate letting students back into the classroom until a special called meeting on November 23rd.

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