Back To School - Bricks And Mortar Is The Goal

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The education landscape has changed, just as society has changed in the past three months. Whether school returns or not as anticipated, education will continue. There are 147 Districts in this state, and we expect 147 different directions. However, we can find some shared aims and objectives. Education officials nationally have been asking for a more detailed response from the federal government on how and when they could safely reopen schools. Guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was rejected, but has valuable information.

Many districts will have plans A, B, C, and D, and be ready to pivot to meet the health needs of our students and staff. It is obvious that public education is not going to look the same in the future. Schooling will not go totally online, but components of it possibly will remain online. What schools will look like will vary district to district across the state. Educators will desperately need advocates and new services. We are working to navigate new requirements with them.

We are currently working to be able to facilitate the questions that will arise from leaders and members. This “new frontier” has brought on a lot of challenges, innovations, and the way we will conduct our respective businesses in our schools and in our association. Our educators have been doing everything possible to meet student needs. Even with issues of student poverty, limited technology resources, and no prior emphasis on preparation for distance learning, our educators are rising to the challenge of educating children while reinventing public education.

What do we know statewide? Not much. The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching created a four-part plan that addresses key subjects like Operations; Academics; Student, family, and staff support, and; Professional development and training. There is not much solid information about what things will look like in the fall in Tennessee if traditional learning cannot happen. Our preference will always be to have our children in schools. However, without an end to the pandemic, we may not be looking at just months but possibly years. NIET outlines four different scenarios we could see in the fall:

All students are attending school in-person. This might include splitting or rotating school schedules so that way there is reduced person-to-person contact. Categories like age, grade, and student needs could be used as possible ways to rotate schedules.
Some students attend in-person while some are virtual. We would add, rotating schedules combined with distance learning.
All students are virtual.
Students are intermittently virtual. This might include the concept of the phased-in model meaning some groups of students could start learning in the classrooms while other students wait their turn. The phased-in model could come with or without distance learning.

Other steps that our schools will face include the possibility of taking temperatures of kids before they enter the classroom. That is time consuming and possibly puts school staff at risk. The expectation that students will have to wear masks, is probably also unrealistic, especially for younger students. School transportation will be challenging, with modified schedules and social distancing guidelines. Will districts suspend attendance policies, modify sick days for students and staff? Will we need longer breaks to deal with COVID-19 during the year? All things are things to consider.

We have painted a grim and challenging picture for the state. No one person, no state committee, no single organization can account for every issue that may arise. It will take all of us working together to get back to some semblance of normal or a routine we can adjust to that will work for students, parents, educators, and the community.

For the most part, Tennesseans prefer less restrictive national guidance leaving discretion up to state and local leaders. We go back to where we started by allowing locally elected boards of education to make the final decisions. This makes the most sense as local school boards are elected by the people and directly accountable to the community which they serve. More than likely, most communities will seek brick and mortar solutions.

JC Bowman
Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee


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