JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) — With nearly 1,200 students in quarantine as of Wednesday, Washington County Schools are looking at potential changes to improve the quality of learning for students stuck at home.
A Tennessee Department of Education rule allows schools to use synchronous learning for quarantined students, which allows students to attend and participate in class virtually. Under that rule, quarantined students would be counted as present instead of excused absence.
Washington County Director of Schools Jerry Boyd said the district is looking at that rule and might make changes to the district’s distance learning policy.
“We want to provide them access to the opportunity to learn, and if that means reinstituting our practices last year on a temporary basis, that’s exactly the conversations we’re having right now,” Boyd said.
Currently, elementary and middle school Washington County students complete work packets — essentially homework — during quarantine. High school students do their work online through Canvas and other learning platforms.
Washington County parent Erica Southerland said her two children — one at Ridgeview Elementary and one at Daniel Boone High — have avoided quarantine so far this year. She said other parents told her the at-home work is not difficult.
“We have friends who have a little girl who was sent home this week, and they had 10 days worth of school work,” Southerland said. “She got it done in four hours, and she’s swimming in the pool the rest of the time.”
But communication between teachers and students varies. That is because communication is left up to the teacher.
“It’s important to leave that,” Boyd said. “They know their students best. They work closely most closely with their students, but there are some minimum services that we need to provide.”
The district is considering guidelines for teachers to improve communication. Boyd said the situation is difficult because several teachers are also in quarantine from contact and testing positive at school or contact with someone in their household.
Southerland was concerned keeping close contacts, otherwise healthy students at home could contribute to more difficulty in academic performance and even lead to chronic absenteeism.
“Not knowing what the effects are going to be for my children down the future and down the road — that’s a scary situation as a parent,” Southerland said.
According to the Tennessee Department of Education, chronic absenteeism occurs when a student misses 10% or more of school days. The department said Tennessee high school freshmen that displayed chronic absenteeism were 30% less likely to earn their diploma on time.
Washington County Schools follow the Tennessee Department of Health Return to School Algorithm. That dictates that fully vaccinated students with no symptoms do not have to quarantine. Students in quarantine showing no symptoms can return after 10 days or 7 days with a negative test.
At the state level, Gov. Bill Lee remains opposed to closing entire schools amid COVID surges, but Republican State Rep. Brandon Ogles called on Lee to allow schools 10 days of virtual learning.
That would give schools a chance to keep students separate when cases rise. Mountain City Rep. Scotty Campbell said he supports that measure, even saying schools may need more than 10 days.
“This would give an avenue for those systems to exercise some of that local control and try to get their numbers down,” Campbell said.
Campbell said the request would continue to make keeping as many students in school as possible a priority.