The Rutherford County School Board is considering several plans for providing education in the fall, with a range of options from students returning to classrooms to studying online from home.
A decision could come in July, but the district’s plans could change after that as the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve.
The board last week discussed the options in a workshop and a business meeting.
Superintendent Bill Spurlock gave a slideshow presentation on three options.
Option 1 is called “traditional.” Students return to class for the most part, but there will be changes in transportation and other logistics like arrival and dismissal times.
During the workshop, officials discussed the problem presented by imposing social distancing on buses, which would force drivers to make multiple trips on a route and could lead to some routes starting as early as 4:30 a.m.
Accommodations would be made for parents who want their children to do distance learning.
Option 2 is called “hybrid.” Students would spend time on campus and time with distance learning. There would be an A and B Schedule for the two groups to alternate days on campus or at home.
Option 3 is called “full virtual.” All students would do distance learning until local and state officials, including health departments, decide they can return. The school board would have to approve a return date.
Board member Lisa Moore asked how virtual learning would be accommodated because some families do not have laptops or tablets or internet.
Staff said a survey they conducted showed 91 percent have reliable internet connections and 83 percent have a device.
Spurlock told the board that the district loaned out mobile devices during the shutdown and has nearly all of them back. Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction James Sullivan said the district is using money from the CARES Act to buy $1.5 million worth of additional devices. While that does not cover all the students, it should cover enough who need a device.
Trey Lee, assistant superintendent for engineering and construction, said the district is installing Wi-Fi technology at all high schools that would allow large numbers of people to sit in their cars in the parking lots and work online.
Assuming students return to campus, there would be contingency plans in case a student or worker tests positive that includes isolation and parents being notified. Multiple exposures could lead to the closures of classes, an entire school or a cluster of schools (elementary, middle and high). A rampant outbreak among schools in the district could lead to a total shutdown of campuses.
School board member Tiffany Johnson told the Murfreesboro Post that one option is for students who are medically fragile, or students who live with a medically fragile relative, to learn from home.
She said she believes the most likely option is the hybrid model, with safeguards in place.
Johnson said she is concerned about asking bus drivers to start picking kids up at 4:30 a.m., which she called unacceptable. She suggested some parents could carpool. Furthermore, under the bus route being considered, some routes in the afternoons could run up to 6:30 p.m.
The state has not given districts guidance about masks being mandated, Johnson said. Unless that happens, she said she believes they will be recommended but not required by the district. Instead, each school or teacher could be given autonomy to make such decisions.