Just under a week after Byars Dowdy Elementary School was moved to remote learning, the Lebanon Special School District announced plans to return to a hybrid model across the district starting Monday.
With Monday scheduled as a distance learning day for all students and Thanksgiving break taking up the rest of next week, that means Nov. 30 will mark the first full week under the A/B schedule. Students will again report to school only two days a week, the district’s feeding schedule will allow for meal pickups and all athletic events have been postponed.
The decision comes amid a sharp increase in local COVID-19 cases this month. As of Wednesday, the county has seen 1,362 new cases in the past two weeks — and 928 are still active.
“We’ve been setting records days in a row for spread rate, for new cases,” LSSD Director of Schools Scott Benson said during the board of education’s meeting the day before the announcement. “Our 14-day average, which is another important piece of data that we look at … we’re setting records just about every day.”
Benson said conference calls with other superintendents have shifted in tone as Tennessee’s case count builds.
“We knew we were going to have quarantines, which we have, but I can tell you this past Friday that it was a different tone with all of us,” he said. “We’re all looking at it in a different light, so to speak, and we’re all considering next steps and what we need to do. Not all of us, many of us are pretty close to pulling the trigger on having to do something different.”
LSSD’s stakeholders also received a letter from Benson on Friday preparing them for an announcement. It stated that the local schools are struggling to navigate under a traditional schedule as community spread increases.
Assistant Director of Schools Becky Kegley said none of the students have been hospitalized from the virus, but one teacher and multiple family members have because of its spread through LSSD. Several classrooms have also been shut down since the start of the school year.
“While we’ve been sitting here, I have another case and a potential closure of a (classroom),” she said. “We had 80 faculty and staff out for multiple days running, and we had school.”
Since the start of the pandemic, many school systems have hoped to avoid moving to distance learning models because of the potential for learning loss and increased gaps among students. Director of Teaching and Learning Pam Sampson said LSSD will keep that in mind whatever model the district uses.
“We have some children we’re missing,” she said. “We’re keeping an eye on that now. We’re keeping track of who they are right now so we know we need to do some intervention and catch them up. Our teachers, some have delivered packets, paper packets to homes because they can’t get internet.”
Sampson said the district is also seeing success on benchmark testing among students learning remotely and that teachers have adapted well to working with children online.
“I’d say one of the hardest things we’re finding right now is keeping track of the ones that have connected, have turned in, keeping track of all those assignments,” she said. “Our teachers are working night and day, they really are, to make it happen, and I know it’s hard on them. We just brag on them every time we see them because it’s tough.”
Benson also provided an update on the upcoming Jones Brummett Elementary School, which broke ground in October 2019. The district posted a job opening for the principal’s position on Monday and expects to take possession of the building in February 2021.
“The way it’s set up is, if we ever have to build another middle school, we can join it to this school,” Steve Jones, the LSSD Board of Education’s chairman, said. “That’s going to save us a ton of money not having to buy the land.”
The Lebanon Special School District Board of Education’s next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 14, with the time and location to be determined.