By Crystal Burns
In a week of rapidly changing information, Trenton Special School District Director of Schools Tim Haney was tasked with helping school board members, faculty, and staff answer one of the most-asked questions: Will school start on time?
It seemed unlikely after Governor Bill Lee issued an executive order on Monday, June 29, to facilitate and respond to continuing effects of COVID-19 by extending executive order Nos. 36 and 38 (as amended by executive order No. 49) until 11:59 p.m. on Aug. 29. Doubts grew on June 30 when the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association (TSSAA) sent a memo to member schools the following day, saying there would be no practices, scrimmages, or games for contact sports until Lee’s latest order is lifted.
On Wednesday, July 1, however, Lee told school leaders he had no intention of changing school start times, and Haney said he believes Trenton students will be back in school as scheduled on Aug. 3.
Haney, however, told the board that he’s comfortable with the programs and professional development the district has in place should schools be forced to meet virtually, and administrators are developing plans to give parents who may feel uncomfortable sending their children to school options for attending virtually.
If TSSD students aren’t able to be in school this fall, grades 3-12 will have virtual school in their homes. Teachers will still come to school and teach their courses on the schedule of a normal school day, and students will be expected to attend those classes at the scheduled times using whatever technical platform the teachers choose.
TSSD officials do want students in grades Pre-K-2 in the classroom.
“We feel strongly that Pre-K through 2 needs to be in front of a teacher, so we’re going to spread those kids out even in a Level 1 [situation] and try if the parents will do it,” Haney said.
Lisa Bradford, TSSD director of Pupil Services and Instructional Technology, said the district has sent a survey to parents and received about 400 responses so far with less than 5% of parents indicating they would like to keep their children home. She also said that the Tennessee Board of Education will mandate districts provide students with 6.5-hour school days, and districts will be expected to get 180 days of school in during the year.
Haney said the state board of education has also told local districts that teachers will be held accountable for their students’ state test scores regardless of whether they meet in person or virtually, but that’s a decision he thinks the board could reverse depending on how the year transpires.
Either way, teachers will need their local school board members’ support, he said.
“We’re going to ask for your support,” Haney told the board. “The naysayers are out there. We’re going to find something that works for the school district and the kid. We’re going to comply with the state. I’m not concerned about their happiness.”
Haney said teachers would work hard to close any gaps in learning and help their students grow academically however school is conducted. He said that thus far no teachers have told their principals that they won’t be teaching in person due to concerns about COVID-19. Should a teacher need to stay home, he/she will be able to teach classes virtually.
“Nothing’s as good as being here, but we can’t use that as an excuse not to grow the kid,” he said. “We’ve got to instruct. We’re starting new material in a month, and we’ve got to have a way to be able to deliver that and hold [students] accountable for the mastery.”