Shelby County schools have several hurdles to overcome before implementing more robust virtual learning options like last year, but the district is taking the first steps to get there.
The delta variant continues to fuel a wave of COVID-19 in Shelby County, the Mid-South and Tennessee, sparking more concern from parents.
Currently, families in Tennessee can only virtual learn through virtual schools, which are stand-alone academies that have separate instructors, disconnected from a student’s teachers and classmates in school buildings. traditional or charter.
Some districts, like SCS, had schools before the pandemic, and other districts, including the neighbors The Schools of Collierville and the Municipal School District of Germantown have created their own virtual schools to have a virtual option this school year. Only a fraction of the state’s districts have such schools, which means that many Tennessee students do not have the option of being distance learners.
SCS and other districts are unable to give all families a virtual choice due to a rule passed last April by the Tennessee State Board of Education.
The rule states that districts can no longer implement “Continuous learning plans”, known as CLP, unless several conditions are met and state approval is granted. Districts were to submit plans to the state to conduct learning in a manner different from typical school days.
The plans allowed SCS to go completely virtual, then give families the option to go virtual and stay enrolled with their schools. Other districts have used the plan to create some sort of A / B calendar for students alternating days in person and remotely to reduce the number of students in classrooms and allow for greater social distancing.
SCS “is also currently exploring ways to ask the (Tennessee Department of Education) and lawmakers to allow (Continuous learning plan) implementedDistrict spokeswoman Jerica Phillips said Tuesday.
The district released the statement after school leaders in Williamson County and the Franklin Special School District signed a joint letter asking their districts, located in suburban Nashville, to be able to use their lifelong learning plans and move away if necessary.
The letter, posted and then deleted from Twitter by a member of the Williamson County School Board on Tuesday night, is addressed to Sen. Jack Johnson, Rep. Glen Casada, Rep. Brandon Ogles and Rep. Sam Whitson.
“We ask you to urge the governor and the State Board of Education to immediately allow districts to resume their lifelong learning plans (CLP) to deal with the current COVID outbreak,” they wrote.
Currently, districts are required to cancel teaching and use stored “bad weather” days when forced to close a school.
Leaders wrote that both districts have schools “near this crisis point” and if schools lack bad weather, they risk extending the school year until spring or summer break. They added that using distance learning when needed will be more valuable to students than canceling teaching.
“We need this tool to continue our success this year,” they wrote.
What should happen next
The Tennessee State Board of Education Rule requires that four conditions be met in order to implement a district learning plan.
The first is that the governor declared a state of emergency “or declaration of disaster by order in council or proclamation or by activating Tennessee’s emergency management plan in accordance with Tennessee Code Annotated Title 58”.
It is possible but not completely clear whether this condition has been met. The state is currently under a “limited state of emergency” through the governor Executive Decree 82. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency lists the current condition as a “Level 3 – State of emergency.”
Requests for clarification to Gov. Bill Lee’s office, the Tennessee State Board of Education and TEMA were not immediately returned Wednesday morning.
Additional conditions require that the “declared disaster or state of emergency” disrupt operations, and that districts or charter schools request the Tennessee Department of Education to implement the lifelong learning plan by justifying the need.
Then, it’s up to the Tennessee Department of Education to issue an approval, which may include the department requesting changes to a district’s plan.
Only a fraction of SCS students have access to virtual learning
The council settlement confused and frustrated many SCS families who, last year, were used to the district deciding whether the school would be completely virtual or whether virtual instruction would be an option for families.
SCS Superintendent Joris Ray began his address to the board at a meeting Tuesday with his condolences. During the moment of silence, the lives of five people were recognized; the district did not indicate the causes of death, but at least three of the people – a high school student and, as reported by Fox13, two teachers – have died of COVID-19 since the start of the school year.
“As a parent, I can’t imagine the pain of losing a child,” Ray said. “Our hearts shake every time we learn of an employee’s death. We recognize the challenges and emotional hardships our community is experiencing at this time.
He went on to answer a few common questions about families’ virtual options for their students, an area of growing concern as the start of the school year coincided with a wave of COVID-19 that broke local records set last winter.
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On the Monday before school started, August 2, only about 200 students were enrolled in the Memphis Virtual School. Within SCS, the virtual school does not offer teaching with a live teacher like last year, but rather offers asynchronous teaching, where a student works at their own pace.
The Memphis Virtual School is only open to students in Grades 4 to 12.
On Tuesday, 900 students were enrolled in the virtual school. The district said its capacity for the school is 1,500 students – only a fraction of the more than 100,000 in all schools in the district – which is the cap stipulated by state laws for virtual education. .
Families were to follow the general choice registration to enroll in the school, and this enrollment period is now over. But, the district said that “pending applications are being dealt with as quickly as possible.”
The district said it was possible for families to re-enroll in a traditional school after being enrolled in the virtual school.
SCS administration and board members appealed to their families, saying they heard concerns but were blocked by what they could offer. The district urged frustrated families to advocate for better options in the state.
“SCS must comply with the law as we continue to push lawmakers to allow local control,” the district said in an emailed statement about the rule preventing more robust virtual learning options for them. families.
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The district also highlighted a clip of Governor Lee’s press conference announcing the mask removal order that was uploaded to district social networks. The district still requires masks and does not allow withdrawals.
“We don’t want them to go back to virtual learning,” Lee said, in response to a question about when the state would allow districts to choose. “Currently, there are no plans for them to go back to virtual learning, so we’ll take it step by step. But we hope they don’t go in that direction.”
Laura Testino covers education and children’s issues for the business call. Contact her at [email protected] or 901-512-3763. Find her on Twitter: @LDTestino