The Hamilton County School Board may vote Thursday night on options for getting students back into the classroom.
Most board members stressed the importance of reopening the schools, while also weighing the safety of students and school personnel.
Chairman Joe Wingate said the item was just for discussion at a lengthy Tuesday night school board agenda session. He said "consideration of students back in classrooms" is not yet added to the Thursday agenda.
Options discussed include:
- Remain as is with all students engaging in virtual learning
- Bring back K-5 students to the classes for initially two days a week
- Bring all students back to the classroom
Supt. Bryan Johnson said the COVID-19 Task Force held a call-in meeting earlier in the day, but that is an advisory panel.
He said two physicians on the Task Force are agreeing that in recent days case numbers are down and figures are "trending in the right direction" after an earlier surge that closed the schools after 84 days of staying open to start the year.
Several board members were adamant that schools should reopen for all students.
Rhonda Thurman said, "I have never been so heart-broken in my life than I am now. Kids down in Georgia are going to school, and we are going to have to get it together. These kids need to be in school. They are missing an education. I do not know how they will ever catch up. And the special education students have been the hardest hit."
She said struggling with virtual school is straining families to the breaking point.
Ms. Thurman said she would do away with a formula that determines where there is in-person school at all or, if so, when students go. She said, "It's like 3 Card Monte. This is our job, but sometimes I get cross-eyed. This is nuts."
However, she did say she has "been to four funerals in four weeks" of friends who were COVID victims.
Board member Joe Smith said, "We've got to get these kids back in school. I am scared to death the way we are going. I've been working with kids for 30 years and I've never been so heart-broken. They are getting further and further behind."
Steve Highlander, another board member, said, "I want them back in school as soon as we can as safely as we can." He added, "I hate this virus though. It is killing people we know and we have to keep our community safe."
Tiffanie Robinson said her family has banded together with three others to try to deal with the online learning.
Ms. Robinson said she was "frustrated by the fact that the board is being asked to make an operational decision."
Supt. Bryan Johnson did not give direction on an option favored by the administration. He said the staff would seek as well as possible to make any of the options work. He said he was encouraged by a recent downward trend in cases, though he said they could go right back up.
Chairman Wingate said he felt it was helpful that the board was having the discussion.
Karitsa Mosley Jones counseled proceeding with caution. She said, "We want to make sure what we do is safe for our teachers and others."
She said, "I know nine people who have died from COVID. This is real. It's something that changes and is unpredictable."
Ms. Thurman said she had concerns with some teachers having a "sick out" in the past and possibly in the future.
She also said she was advised that some teachers are conducting their Zoom courses "from places like Florida or Gatlinburg. I was told that one teacher has moved out of Hamilton County."