Students have a new item to add to their backpacks this year. In addition to pencils and books, Warren County students will need to have face coverings.
“The School Board did mandate the wearing of facemasks,” said Director of Schools Grant Swallows. “That mandate includes teachers and students.”
The official start of school is one week away on Wednesday, Aug. 12. Only students with a last name that starts with A-L should report Wednesday. Students with a last name that starts with M-Z should report for their first day Thursday.
This phase-in period is scheduled to last 2.5 weeks.
Tennessee’s guidelines say all school employees and students should wear masks. Masks will be provided for those who need one. The mask decision is one Swallows supports.
“I’m fully aware, folks, that we’re making some decisions that are unpopular,” he said. “I’m sorry for that. I’m two months into this job and I’m already making people upset, but that just goes with the territory. We are trying to educate our students and keep them as safe as we possibly can.”
Students will learn remotely online on the days they do not go to the physical school buildings. Consideration is being given to extending the phase-in session.
“We passed a plan to offer a couple different things, one being a traditional return to school with a hybrid phase-in,” said Swallows. “Originally, we planned for two-and-a-half weeks of that. There is a possible extension of that, depending on where we are. Right now, we are taking this day by day.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, over 1,250 students have opted for an online education through the school system’s VIP learning program. In order to participate, those students must agree to a 9-week session, have a home computer and internet access.
“We completely understand that there are students who are at risk health-wise,” said Swallows. “There are families at home that are at risk health-wise. We feel like it is important to offer an alternative for those families which is why we are expanding our VIP at home learning option. We are going to provide an education to those students who choose to be at home through that program. We will be providing them with all the same services that students receive in a traditional environment.”
Gov. Bill Lee has supported the reopening of schools. Additionally, the requirement that Tennessee offers 180 days of education has not been waived.
“By providing these two options, I feel like we are offering an education for all our students that has been crafted for what’s best for them,” said Swallows. “It’s going to be a challenging, challenging school year, but at the end of the day it’s the right thing to provide for our students. It’s the right thing to keep them safe and that’s what we will continue to try and do throughout all this.”
The deadline to apply for the VIP online learning program was Tuesday, Aug. 4.