Updates with WCS announcement about age guidelines for masks.
The Wilson County School Board strengthened a policy it made three weeks ago and will require students and staff to wear face coverings or shields in the school buildings when school starts Aug. 17.
The board approved the change by a 5-2 vote at its meeting Monday night. Wayne McNeese and Kimberly McGee were the “no” votes. The policy will be in place until the board rescinds it regardless of state or county mandates.
WCS spokesman Bart Barker announced a clarification on social media on Tuesday, saying that the district will not require masks for students 12 or younger. Recommendations from the state and the mandate from Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto gave exemptions to those children.
On July 16, the school board had voted to expect students to wear masks at school rather than requiring the face coverings.
Masks will still be required for students riding WCS buses to wear.
Six of the seven board members (not including McNeese) wore a mask during Monday’s meeting. Director of Schools Dr. Donna Wright wore a mask at the start of the meeting but removed it when she began reading her report.
However, last Friday Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order that has been interpreted by the state attorney general to give school systems the authority to require masks.
At the July 16 school board meeting, Wilson County Schools Health Services Supervisor Chuck Whitlock said that the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency will be providing 800,000 masks to the district (20 masks per student for 20 school days per month). Wright said that 8,000 bottles of hand sanitizers will be available to teachers for use in the classroom.
Monday night the board voted unanimously to approve Wright’s school reopening plan.
Students who are enrolled in the hybrid learning option will rotate between school and home, with three days of learning at home, and two days learning at school (either Tuesday/Thursday or Wednesday/Friday).
“Hybrid learning is modified traditional learning,” Wright said. “And hybrid learning transfers easily into traditional learning. If we see a dramatic uptick (in virus cases), hybrid can transfer easily into remote. We’re seeing changes within 24 hours and we have to have some flexibility with that.”
Teachers will begin Aug. 10 and the students will return Aug. 17.
As of Aug. 3, the system has 10,300 students on an “A” schedule (Tuesday/Thursday) and 9,500 students on the “B” schedule (Wednesday/Friday), Wright said.
She said the purpose of making sure the numbers are balanced is to ensure that there is approximately a 50 percent attendance for each school. That will allow the district to view how its district’s protocols are working during the first few weeks of school.
When students are not in the school building, they will learn from studies assigned by teachers on the days they are in school. Students can download the work on the days they are in school, especially if they do not have a reliable internet service.
WCS has also set up remote internet locations, known as hotspots, at each of the district’s schools.
Wright said that, “there will be more car riders initially and the schools are working through those plans. Students need to be ready to exit their car or bus when they arrive.”
She said she has spoken with parents who ask why the virtual school option will not be the same as the traditional/hybrid options, including not offering some higher-level courses for virtual students.
“The teachers who are working on the virtual side are coming out of the numbers on the traditional side,” Wright said. “We don’t have the money to hire additional teachers. The quality of education is still there.”
Wright said parents have also asked why a camera can’t be set up in every traditional teacher’s classroom and broadcast to the virtual students.
“We can’t do that because of the enormity and equipment needed to do that,” she said.
A Parent’s University, which will give parents lessons about the learning and how to use the devices to be given to each school, will also be available beginning Aug. 10. Parents are required to attend several Parent’s University classes before orientation, Wright said.
Students schedules will be available in Skyward on Aug. 17, Wright said.
Devices will be given to the students who go to the school buildings the first week. Virtual students’ parents can pick up the devices Aug. 21 and 24.
“This is not a normal year, because we’re working with two systems simultaneously,” Wright said. “We ask for your patience and understanding in what the schools are going through.”