By MARINA WATERS
Going back to school in Washington County is going to look a little different this year.
On Monday, July 27, Director of Washington County Schools Bill Flanary announced that the 2020-2021 school year will be conducted online starting Aug. 3.
“The board’s adopted reopening plan set a threshold for physically opening, a staggered schedule, and a virtual open,” Flanary told the Herald & Tribune on Monday. “Today’s infection rate was well beyond the threshold for putting students in school physically.”
Flanary said for now, the plan is to remain on a virtual schedule for 30 days, but the school system could switch to an in-person plan should the number of COVID-19 cases drop “into an acceptable range.”
“We will watch the 14-day infection rate and other data on a daily basis,” Flanary said. “Our plan is to revisit the protocol after 30 days, but that’s flexible. If the infection rate drops dramatically sooner than that, we’ll look at putting students back in schools physically. Every decision will be made in consultation with the health department.”
Students will be contacted by his or her school on or before Aug. 3. Teachers, who will be required to be in the school buildings, will instruct and interact with students virtually and in some cases, students will learn through pre-recorded and other online lessons.
“We have 600 teachers — we don’t have the bandwidth to have all of them live stream their classes at the same time,” Flanary said. “A lot of instructional content will be recorded or in other formats.”
The online format will also require students to have online access.
The school system is allowing students to borrow chromebooks in order to participate online. Parents and guardians are encouraged to contact the school as soon as possible in order to reserve a device.
“Technology is a concern,” Flanary said. “We have the capability of loaning chromebooks to any student that needs one. We have already had a lot of demand and we’ve already had some technical issues. We’re working through them as quickly as possible.”
Flanary said he recognizes online learning poses challenges specifically to younger age groups.
“Students need to interact with teachers in a live environment,“ Flanary said. “This is especially true with our younger students. Certain subjects don’t adapt well to virtual learning, especially mathematics. We really need to get the regional infection rate back down so we can get back in school physically.”
To get back to school in person, Flanary is encouraging the community to join in the group effort to decrease the number of cases in Tennessee’s oldest county.
“The community can have an impact on getting back in school,” Flanary said. “Wear those masks, wash those hands, and socially distance yourself whenever and wherever possible.”
The next BOE meeting will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 4, at 5:30 p.m. The meeting will be livestreamed at wcde.org.