Virtual learning may create ‘impossible’ situation for working parents

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WASHINGTON COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL)- Virtual learning may be intended to keep children safe as school resumes amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But for working parents who can’t stay home to help their kids learn, this comes with numerous challenges.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Sullivan County Schools, Johnson City Schools, and Washington County Schools have announced all students will learn remotely at the start of the school year. Washington County school leaders said students will learn remotely for at least the first 30 days.

For Rachael Bates, a working mother and Washington County Schools parent, the requirements of remote learning seem daunting. The school system will require grades 1-12 to complete seven hours of school a day.

“It just seems impossible for working parents. There’s no way I can work eight hours a day, have seven hours of school, and then with other things, other commitments that we have,” she said.

Bates has two sons at David Crockett High, who may have to help her 8-year-old daughter at Grandview Elementary learn while she’s at work.

“My 16-year-old is going to have to, I guess, learn how to do his stuff and really help his sister a lot too. It’s not fair,” she said.

Bates also has questions about requirements for remote learning, including whether all seven hours are meant to be spent in front of the computer screen.

On Tuesday, News Channel 11 reached out to Washington County Schools for answers to specific parent questions on virtual learning requirements. A spokesperson for the district said an Expectations and Information letter should be sent out to parents by Friday that will answer questions.

Tiffany Ferguson is a single mom and an essential worker with an 8 to 5 job. Her two young children in Washington County Schools may have to stay with different family members during the week, with varying levels of internet access.

“It’s going to be something. Either I’m going to lose hours, or my children are going to lose, and get behind on classes and on the curriculum they’re supposed to be learning,” said Ferguson.

She believes the school system has the best interest of students in mind. But Ferguson also wishes there was an option between remote and in-person learning. She said her family has been trying to stay positive.

“I told my daughter, I said, ‘Well maybe we can go get a new set of pajamas, you know, for you to wear as your first-day outfit.’ So you know, trying to keep it bright. But it’s hard for all of us,” said Ferguson.

Dusty Jonze also has young children in Washington County Schools. He and his wife are essential workers at local plasma centers. They don’t have relatives who can watch their children during the school day as they work 40-plus hour weeks.

“I’ve even mentioned maybe even hiring a nanny or trying to hire someone, but you know that’s just extra money out of our income to do that,” said Jonze.

Jonze called the challenges presented by virtual learning ‘inevitable.’

“It’s hard for teachers, it’s hard for everybody around,” he said. “It’s not a blaming thing at all. It’s just a frustration for everyone. I understand that. I just wish there were other avenues that we as a community could come up with.”

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