During a board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 8, the Wilson County Board of Education passed a motion to allow students third grade and below to return to full in-person traditional schooling.When schools in Wilson County resumed on Aug. 17, precautions were put into place to protect vulnerable students from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Wilson County Board of Education wanted to ensure students’ safety amid the large crowds and tightly-packed desks of a school setting, where there is plenty of opportunity for a sickness to spread. Their solution was to restructure the school experience entirely to limit contact and prevent exposure.
Currently, students of all grades attend school on either a virtual program, in which their classes are completely online with no in-person component, or a “hybrid” plan, in which the student body alternates between in-person and online classes, with only half of the students present in the school building on any given day. The Board of Education has reported positive results of this system, which makes it possible to easily screen students before entry into the building and limit close contact. They also cited educational benefits, saying that teachers are able to work more closely with smaller groups of students at a time and that teachers are more easily able to collaborate for lesson planning and grading.
However, this system comes with downsides as well; students are now receiving only two days of in-person learning each week. “Today our children have lost approximately 72 days of instructional time since March and counting.” Said concerned grandmother Cindy Harell.
Andrea Stoeppler, mother of three children in three different Wilson County schools, also called into question the effectiveness and organization of the hybrid system. “I have 18 different teachers that I have to keep up with and figure out which way they want to be communicated with, because each teacher has their own preference on how they want this done,” Stoeppler said. “We are also experiencing teachers not posting assignments at the start of the virtual school day while others post assignments for the entire week.” Between parents’ work schedules, technical difficulties at home, school programs not posting assignments until they’re late and having to connect to each teacher differently, Stoeppler doesn’t feel that her children are receiving the time that they may need with the teachers to understand the assignments.
Finally, parents with obligations such as work during the week are having a difficult time providing childcare for their students, as well as helping them with coursework. “I, like many working parents and grandparents, simply do not have the time to teach at night and the other three days, nor do I want to be a teacher,” said Harell.
These parents and grandparents, and many others, want Wilson County schools to resume traditional in-person schooling. “The majority of parents and grandparents voted in the Wilson County school survey to return to school full-time, obviously with all the necessary COVID precautions,” attested Harell. “School districts in Lebanon City and surrounding counties with COVID numbers much higher than Wilson County are all either back full-time, face-to-face, or have current and urgent plans to all get back in the classroom ASAP.” These parents and grandparents believe that Wilson County needs to follow suit. Furthermore, several of the board members indicated that many parents had communicated to them that they would like to see a return to traditional schooling.
Originally, the Board of Education planned to resume traditional schooling on Oct. 12. However, during the Board meeting last Tuesday, board member Linda Armistead made a motion for a select range of students to return to school earlier than this date, on Sept. 21. Her motion passed 6-1, with one board member abstaining.
Following the decision of the Board of Education, all students in third grade and below will be integrating back into a traditional full in-person schedule, beginning on Sept. 21. This does not affect any individuals on a completely virtual schedule; these students and teachers have already been dedicated to the virtual program, and no changes are planned for it for the foreseeable future. Students in fourth grade and up will remain on the current hybrid plan at least until Fall Break in October. The Board of Education discussed resuming traditional schooling for these students as well, but has not yet made any final decisions.
Armistead believes that this phased-in approach to reintegrating the student body to a traditional schedule will allow the district to gauge how well the students and the school system will handle the changes.
Students and teachers attending in-person classes will still be subject to social distancing protocols and mask mandates, and will be expected to quarantine for the appropriate amount of time if they contract COVID-19. The Board of Education is still committed to the safety of its students and faculty while also providing a quality education.