We all know that the end of the 2019-2020 school year was like nothing that anyone has seen in recent history, and 2020 grads will forever be the COVID class. But what will the 2020-2021 school year look like during the COVID-19 pandemic? That is something the Rutherford County Board of Education will be voting on next week.
Currently, there are three options being considered: Traditional, Hybrid, and Distance Learning.
The Traditional Format will have students returning to an in-classroom, fully in-person, learning position. There will be some logistical modifications to enhance social distancing – like more lunch periods and having lunches in more places — and other ways to mitigate virus transmission. For parents who are not ready to have their child in an interactive environment, a distance learning option will be available. Also, teachers who have health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus will be teaching in a distance learning format. All teachers will be wearing masks, and it will be suggested that all older (age groups to be determined) students also wear masks.
The Hybrid Format will combine on campus and distance learning on a rotating basis. Having fewer students in the school buildings at one time is the goal of this format so social distancing is easier to accomplish in already crowded classrooms. There will be A-B scheduling, with students on the A Schedule having in-classroom instruction on Mondays and Wednesdays, with distance learning on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Group B students will be in the classroom on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with their distance learning days being Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. This will allow the school facilities to have a deep cleaning every Friday. As with the first options, those parents not wanting their child to return to a classroom will have a full distance learning option.
Lastly, is the Distance Learning Option. In this case, everyone will be receiving distance learning until it is determined that full in-class instruction is safe for everyone according to Center for Disease Control (CDC) and state health guidelines.
“We have been working closely with the Tennessee Department of Health and CDC guidelines in planning the next school year,” said Bill Spurlock, Director of Schools. “We’ve been looking at plans for a while now, created one, and then the information changes and we have to change our plans.”
As they have worked on the three options noted above, they have also been contemplating the academic, social, and emotional needs of the returning students. Those returning will have been out 21 weeks, and never have students been out of a classroom format for that long.
One of the other factors the planning group has had to consider is that there must be 180 days of seven hours of instruction, plus time for holidays and teacher training. It has been a long process.
“We looked at the data on how many school-aged children have or have had COVID-19 in the county,” said Spurlock. “There had been a total of 392 cases of children infected the last time we looked during the planning process. This number includes not only children in the Rutherford County School System, but also Murfreesboro City Schools, and private schools, so we do not know the exact amount in the system who have been infected.”
Keeping students and their families safe, while getting kids access to an education, is what the planning process has been all about. The school system will be following very strict guidelines. Any child that is sick with COVID-19 must stay home for at least 10 days and have three days of no symptoms. There will be social distancing, limited access to the various campuses, limited field trips and meetings, and masks will be strongly recommended. Anyone displaying any symptoms will not be allowed into the buildings.
And as far as sports and extracurricular activities go, following the governor’s latest Executive Order 50 they will all be delayed until further rulings come down from the government.
Planning has also taken into account what happens if COVID-19 does hit the school system. It may mean closing a classroom or classrooms, a school or school cluster, or even the entire system. They have considered the various alternatives and how to respond.
“I am proud to be able to work with such a dedicated group,” said Spurlock, as he praised the many people in the school system and outside of the system who have been part of the planning group.