Elementary school students in Trousdale County will return to school five days a week after the Thanksgiving break.
The School Board approved its reopening plan during a three-hour meeting on Oct. 15 that was held at the high school gymnasium and attended by around 30 parents.
Under the plan, the elementary school will open for a trial period to allow administration to see how things will work if all schools return full time. That trial run will begin Nov. 30 and last through the end of the fall semester on Dec. 18.
Based on results from the trial period, the School Board will make a decision at its Dec. 17 meeting on whether to open all three schools for the spring semester or remain on the current hybrid model that has in-person classes and online lessons.
“We’re working really hard to keep schools open; that’s our main goal,” Director of Schools Clint Satterfield said. “When we started school, we had three benchmarks: Labor Day, fall break and Thanksgiving break… We are trying to balance the educational interest of students with their safety and our employees’ safety. It’s not a position anyone is happy with.”
Prior to its decision on the reopening plan, board members heard from a number of parents who raised concerns about the hybrid model and said they wanted to see Trousdale County return to a traditional five-day-a-week schedule.
“It’s time to push forward, get those kids back into the classroom,” said Kayla Ring. “I don’t feel like we’re working toward that.”
“I have a hard time comprehending why surrounding counties can go back five days a week and we can’t,” added Chris Sexton.
“We’re nine weeks in; it’s not working for all the kids,” said Elaine Clemmons.
Other parents said their children were struggling under the hybrid model and said online classes were a poor substitute for one-on-one interaction between teacher and student.
“We moved to Trousdale because of schools. Right now, I am regretting that decision,” said Melissa Voelker. “If Trousdale County is OK with their students bringing home Ds and Fs, then this district is not what I thought it was.”
Kellie Porter, an elementary teacher, countered that the hybrid model was workable and cited the example of her own children.
“It’s about what you can do if you will put the time in it,” she said. “My fourth-grader struggles, but he is doing well on this system. He is learning.”
The School Board also took up its policy on requiring masks be worn by students. In September, the board voted 3-2 to make masks optional once students returned full time.
On Thursday, the board voted 4-1 to have masks be mandatory at the elementary school during the trial period. Whether they will be mandatory or optional at all schools will be decided at a later time.
During Thursday’s debate, the board heard from parents saying masks should remain optional. In addition both student representatives, Heath Chasse and Cooper Helson, said they would rather have masks be optional in the classroom and said their schoolmates would feel the same way.
Coordinated School Health supervisor Kathy Atwood said that to date, there have been 19 total cases of COVID-19 in the school system since the start of the school year in late July. In addition, 164 students and staff have been quarantined at various times because of potential exposure but have not been tested.
Porter spoke on health concerns by teachers if kids return full time, saying, “We didn’t sign up to risk our lives for teaching children.”
“We’re walking a very thin line,” Satterfield said. “When our staff goes down, we’ll have to close school.”
In other action, the board voted to make changes to the pay schedule for the afterschool program. Team Leaders will go to $25 per hour in a move designed to eliminate disparity in the positions. Currently there is an $8.44 difference in the highest- and lowest-paid persons doing the same job.
Student mentors will go from $8 to $8.50 per hour and the Desk Clerk/Medical Aide will go to $25 per hour.
The board also approved a third-party vendor contract for EdGenuity to provide for virtual education in grades 6-12 should in-person classes resume full time at the middle and high schools. Local teachers would not have the time to teach class five days a week and prepare virtual lessons, which necessitated the potential outsourcing of virtual school.
Reach Chris Gregory at 615-450-5756 or firstname.lastname@example.org.