Parents and teachers with Metro Nashville Public Schools will need to adjust to an unusual school year in the fall. The district says one possibility is letting parents pick between enrolling their kids in remote or in-person classes.
There are mixed feelings about the way Nashville should reopen schools. According to district survey results of more than 16,000 parents across all grades, a significant portion say they are not completely comfortable sending their kids to school buildings. Yet most parents with kids in elementary schools are favorable towards the idea.
“Right, wrong or indifferent, employers are wanting people to go back to work, and back to the office at some point,” says Alison Black, a parent at Eakin Elementary near West End. “You have to have something to do with your children.”
Black says her daughter will be entering first grade at the start of the new school year, and that it’s nearly impossible for younger kids to get to a complete education in an online format.
She says although the district has significantly improved its remote learning curriculum since the initial rollout, virtual classes are impractical for parents with young kids and high demands.
“You have to have somebody there to help them log on,” says Black. “That’s just the nature of the beast.”
The district says while they’re committed to meeting parent needs based on individual circumstances, they’ll be asking them to stick to their chosen learning format for at least a semester.
“We have a very transient population … in MNPS,” says Adrienne Battle, the director of Metro Schools. “It will be very difficult and nearly impossible for us to be able to maintain the in and out flow of virtual versus in-person.”
However, Battle says no matter what learning preference is selected, parents should be prepared to adjust back to online learning if there is an uptick in COVID-19 cases — which she says is anticipated by health officials.
Earlier this month, the district pledged to close the technology divide in Metro Schools by deploying nearly 90,000 laptops and 17,000 mobile internet hot spots to students, but officials have since announced that there will be a delay in getting the computers into the hands of some families. School leaders say students enrolled in remote learning classes will be prioritized.
Feedback from teachers
In a separate survey sent to support staff and teachers, district leaders say most employees expressed a high interest in a hybrid approach — meaning schools would reopen on a staggered in-person and online schedule. This is considering that only 33% of teachers said they were “very comfortable” with remote learning.
“Our CARES Act request includes new funding for teacher training in the virtual schooling environment,” says Battle. “We hope to see those numbers shifts as we get closer to the school year.”
Battle says while the district will take individual teacher concerns into consideration, school principals will have a fair amount of autonomy in deciding what teachers work remotely, and who reports to the classroom.
“We definitely want to be considerate of our employees who have underlying health concerns,” says Battle. “We want to also make sure that we have strength in teachers who will be working remotely.”
She says the deciding factors of who teaches in what format has yet to be developed, but that accommodating medical conditions will be a top priority.
“What we’re seeing is that the most important thing for teachers and staff is to see and understand the … measures in place to provide for their safety and that of their students,” says Battle.
Battle says the district’s current plan is just a start. She says she’ll be actively engaging students, staff and other stakeholders through working groups in order to develop scenarios and protocols that will meet the needs of all families. The district is expected to release its final reopening plan the week of July 6.