Heather Powell breaks down how she balances a full time job and helping her kids with virtual learning.
Only about half of Metro Nashville Public School students are likely to return to the classroom when schools begin to reopen next month.
Families were required to notify the district by Sept. 18 of whether they intended to send their children back to school in-person after fall break or continue with virtual learning.
Of the more than 40,000 students who responded to the survey, 54%, or 24,935 students, intend to return in-person whereas 46%, or 20,934 students, will likely continue with virtual learning, according to survey results presented by Director of Schools Adrienne Battle during a Board of Education meeting Tuesday night.
“In terms of actual attendance breakdowns we can anticipate this will be the general trend,” Battle said. “Now schools will take that information to make staff adjustments so all students will have access to a high-quality education no matter what option they chose.”
Adrienne Battle, director of Metro Nashville Public Schools visits Harris-Hillman School Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn. Harris-Hillman School provides services to students with disabilities. (Photo: George Walker IV / The Tennessean)
Metro Schools students have been learning at home for nearly seven weeks since the school year began on Aug. 4. Earlier this month, Battle announced that the district would begin phasing-in students after fall break, with the exception of some students with disabilities, who have already begun returning to the classroom.
Students in grades K-2, including preschoolers, will begin returning on Tuesday, Oct. 13 with upper elementary grade students returning on Oct. 20.
Middle school students in grades 5 and 6 can return on Oct. 27 and grades 7-8 on Nov. 4 — students don’t attend school on Nov. 3, or Election Day.
High school students won’t return to class until January, at the beginning of the second semester.
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Battle reiterated that the district is using a variety of data and recommendations from Mayor John Cooper’s Coronavirus Task Force, as well as data from surrounding counties to guide the district’s reopening decisions.
“We must continue to monitor the city’s progress and ours as a district as we make decisions with the safety of students and staff in mind,” Battle said.
She pointed to notable school closures, including Fairview High School in Williamson County and Harpeth High in Cheatham County, as reasons Metro Schools is wary of rushing students back into school buildings.
“We have seen high schools have to shut down among their students and staff,” Battle said.
Whether students return in-person or remain virtual, they will still be using the Florida Virtual School curriculum, according to the district’s Chief of Academics and Schools Mason Bellamy.
“The groups will be paced identically. A second-grader at one school should be in a very similar place as a second-grader at another school,” Bellamy told board members Tuesday. “Additionally our virtual students will still have access to our teachers in a virtual environment in the same manner as they would in-person.”
Staffing has not been finalized though and some parents are concerned whether their children will have the same teacher depending on if they go back or not.
The Metropolitan Nashville Education Association, the teachers union, released survey results Monday that indicated at least 49% of teachers are not comfortable returning in-person based on the district’s current plans for reopening.
When students do return to the classroom, Bellamy said they will notice some changes.
Though the district can’t promise six-foot social distancing in district classrooms, schools are trying to put together schedules that will allow for cohort models, Bellamy said.
Schools are also working on breakfast and lunch procedures that might include students eating in their classroom and classrooms might also be organized differently.
“You’ll probably see cafeterias being utilized slightly less than you’re used to seeing,” Bellamy said. “When you get into the classroom environment, you’ll see desks facing in one direction and spaces marked off between desks for pathways so when we’re traveling in classes that we are using the appropriate pathways.”
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As schools prepare for the youngest learners to return after fall break, Bellamy also noted that educators will teach appropriate behaviors for going to school during a pandemic.
“We’ve always taught appropriate behaviors for school and some of those behaviors are going to be expounded upon,” Bellamy said. “We’ll be talking about what it means to keep your body under control, staying in your designated area and of course wearing our masks at all times. We will be teaching our youngest learners how to do those things respectfully.”
The district has also given schools guidance that they are not screening students’ temperatures, Bellamy said, raising concerns among some school board members.
The district is still attempting to reach the families who have not completed the family decision survey, but if an option isn’t made for a student, district officials will plan for the students to return in-person. That could mean as many as 66% of the district’s students do end up returning when schools reopen.
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Meghan Mangrum covers education in Nashville for the USA TODAY NETWORK — Tennessee. Contact her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.
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