Perry: Virtual students will be ‘strongly encouraged’ to return after Spring Break

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The majority of Hamblen County students will be expected to return to school after spring break unless they meet certain requirements, said Dr. Jeff Perry, Hamblen County school superintendent.

“In many ways, having students attend virtual is easier for our administrators and teachers,” Perry said. “However, we do not believe this is the best learning environment for the vast majority of our students.”

Though he has been discussing possibility publicly for a couple of weeks, Perry made the announcement in his “School Matters” column, which is located inside today’s Citizen Tribune.

“Students must return to school on April 5, which is the start of our final nine-week grading period, assuming health conditions allow,” Perry said.

In the column, Perry lists the pros and cons of returning to in-classroom learning with a small component online.

Ultimately, the decision is to have as many students in school as possible in order to better teach students, school officials agreed.

For grades kindergarten to second grade, he said it is almost impossible to teach those students the proper way online. If they continued to learn in that fashion, it would affect their learning aptitude next year.

Students third grade and above miss critical learning experiences that cannot be provided in online teaching such as hands-on learning in vocational classes, class discussions or labs.

Students with medical conditions or who have parents with medical conditions may remain in virtual learning throughout the remainder of the school year, but that must be verified with a doctor’s note.

But, he said those students who stay on virtual with medical note will not be able to participate in after school functions

“Students shall not be allowed to participate in athletic competitions, prom, and other school-related events if they are excused from school with a physician’s note,” Perry said. “Students should not be attending these types of activities if they possess health issues preventing them from coming to school.

“This exclusion only applies to students who are unable to attend school for medical reasons.”

Students may remain virtual if they meet the following criteria: Demonstrate they are performing at high academic level by maintaining at least a “B” cumulative average for the third grading period and for those in Kindergarten and first grade perform in the 40th percentile, or above, on the winter universal screener reading assessments. These students may also remain virtual if they miss no more than five days during the second semester.

Any student who has a cumulative grade lower than a “C” or more than 10 absences by Friday will have to return to school, Perry said.

“We will continue the online option, but we are readjusting our focus and priority to in-class instruction in grades 6-12,” Perry said. “Maintaining both virtual and in-class instruction has been extremely challenging for many of our teachers. It is difficult for us to dedicate attention and focus on both platforms at the same time. Teachers will begin transitioning most of our attention to in-class instruction, and again, we strongly encourage students to attend in-class if possible after spring break.”

Perry said if health conditions start deteriorating they will reevaluate. At this time, though, they are at the lowest number of active cases the school system has had since September.

“With the number of positive cases sharply declining and the vaccines becoming more available, it is time we need to consider returning to school,” he said. “We are making these decisions because we care deeply about our students and their long-term success.”