School board work session covers sketch of back-to-school plans

The Manchester Board of Education met for a special called work session Thursday to discuss the specific guidelines that the state recommended for back to school.

No action can be taken at a work session, so the system’s policies will finalize in the coming weeks for a board vote in the July board meeting.

The state department has offered guidelines for the fall, but the implementation will fall to the local districts.

Director of Schools Dr. Joey Vaughn stressed that he is working closely with Coffee County and Tullahoma City schools to maintain as much continuity as possible in planning for fall.

As it stands, there are four possible models proposed of how schools will function. The first is school starting as normal with precautions in place; the second option would be an online-only school environment; the third, would be to split the school time, have Monday-Wednesday, Tuesday-Thursday classes (which would mean adding weeks to the calendar); and a fourth option would be a family choice option: all students whose families are comfortable with their children attending would have face-to-face classes, while those not yet ready for that, could opt for an online program. The exact safety protocols for in-school plans will be in the final recommendation to the board. They could include optional masks for students and teachers, as well as temperature checks at the start of each day.     

Regardless of which model is chosen, the state guidelines for a continuous learning plan (that may change as the situation develops) mandates that students must have the regular 180 days of instruction and that grades first-12th must have 6 ½ hours of instruction, 4 hours for kindergartners and pre-k, and that attendance must be taken and class instruction be monitored. In other words, the state mandates that even if the schools chose an online-only model (or if an outbreak forces a second closure) that teachers must still have structured lessons — school work and attendance— that match normal requirements.

In addressing the online class option, it was cautioned that parents might not realize the rigors it would present.

Vaughn told the board that the district was in a good place if virtual classes were needed. There will be problems, he cautioned, but overall, “I’m confident that we can adjust and adapt to anything that we have,” Vaughn said.

Problems discussed is if classes are to be held via Google Meets, those without reliable internet will miss the real-time interactions of the class and there will be problems documenting attendance. System administrators are exploring businesses that offer free Wi-Fi, and all of the schools will provide parking lot Wi-Fi hotspots for students.

To get a picture of what the system is facing, Central Office is in the process to surveying parents and faculty on what they would be comfortable with in the fall. The parent survey should be out in early July.

During the July 13 board meeting, the back-to-school plan will be addressed. Of the four models the final family choice appeared to have the fewest problems and would offer the least disruption in education, while maintaining a framework in place for the event of a second closure later in the school year. Still, Vaughn cautioned that the parents’ decision whether to have their children attend virtual or face-to-face classes would be need to be fixed early on in the school year.  Tullahoma and Coffee County will also hold meetings to address their plans for fall. 

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