Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct that the use of masks have not been mandated yet.
The Rutherford County Board of Education on Thursday voted unanimously for traditional in-person learning this fall.
Parents will have the option of having their students do distance learning for the fall semester. Students doing this must stick with that plan for the entire semester, Superintendent Bill Spurlock said.
There may be modifications to arrival and dismissal times to accommodate safety issues. Class operations may be modified.
The board had considered options for in-person classes, total distance learning, or a hybrid plan that had students both attending classes and working online on different days.
Board member Lisa Moore made the motion to select the traditional learning option and called it the most difficult decision in the district's history.
Tiffany Johnson, a board member who has children attending school, said she had concerns about students working totally online. She said one of her sons is medically fragile.
“I feel for those families who have medically fragile students, who have medically fragile members,” Johnson said.
Johnson seconded the motion for traditional and with options for distance learning on behalf of students who are medically fragile.
Board member Jeff Jordan said masks were not mentioned in the motion. Chairman Jim Estes said the committee recommended that and that it could be reflected in the minutes.
Jordan said that with 49,000 students, things will go wrong, but they can work through them. The hybrid model has a lot of problems with many people not having computers, especially when they have more than one child. He also questioned if a child would follow the 6.5-hour rule (the number of daily instructional hours required by the state). Rural areas still do not have adequate internet access.
Spurlock said the motion says the district can change the plan if conditions warrant it. Health officials now believe that closing schools last spring was wrong, he said. He said staff needs a decision from the board so they can prepare for school.
Board member Tammy Sharp asked for a transitional week the first week with half-days to give teachers time to adjust and clean their rooms and possibly set them up differently. Spurlock said those half-days would have to be made up somehow. That plan may be considered at a future meeting.
Terry Hodge, another board member, said teachers should be reimbursed for cleaning supplies. Assistant Superintendent Trey Lee said the district has better access to distributors but is struggling to get supplies; however, their plan does involve giving teachers cleaning supplies.
Board member Coy Young asked the district to consider giving teachers a bonus of $3,000 to $5,000; that suggestion was not voted upon.