Metro Nashville Public Schools will start the new school year remotely, after the district had originally informed parents they’d have a choice between in-person and remote learning classes.
But there has since been a statewide uptick in COVID-19 cases. Now, under this new plan, students will likely move from a virtual, to a hybrid, then to a face-to-face model when it is safe to do so.
Metro Nashville Public Schools made the announcement Thursday.
“This decision was not made lightly, but the risks to the health and safety of students and staff are too great at this moment for us to begin the school year with in-classroom instruction,” says Adrienne Battle, the director of Metro Schools. “I am confident that our teachers and support staff will be up to the challenge of providing a great education that meets the academic and social-emotional needs of our students in a virtual learning environment.”
Until at least Labor Day, the district’s distant learning plan will consists of a standard curriculum across all schools. Students will be given a mix of live and offline learning assignments, with six and a half hours of learning opportunities each day. Students can expect at least two hours per day of live class time. Students enrolled in zoned, magnet and other choice schools will remain in their assigned classes.
The district will be contracting with a virtual school run by a nonprofit that’s overseen by the Florida Department of Education.
Teachers will also be able to tailor lessons to the specific classrooms, as long as they stay within the district’s curriculum. For exceptional educational learners, the district is expected to help teachers implement an Individual Education Plan and 504 Plan that will meet the specific needs of those students.
In addition, they will also have a COVID Continuous Learning Individualized Plan, which will help the teachers and school leaders identify their non-academic support needs.
Resuming in-person classes
If MNPS physical classrooms reopen after Labor Day, parents will still need to make a choice between virtual or in-person classes. This will help the district reduce class sizes upon a physical return, while also allowing flexibility for parents. Battle says the district has ordered masks, sanitizer and other PPE to distribute to staff and students when in-person classes resume.
“Our classrooms are not designed to allow six feet of space between all desks,” says Battle. “We have neither the funding nor the supply of willing applicants to dramatically expand our teaching pool to reduce classroom sizes.”
This is also an issue when it comes to bus transportation. Battle says the district will make efforts to keeps students safe, but that they’ll be encouraging families to find alternative transportation methods when face-to-face classes resume.
In high school grades, students will take four classes per semester. The district says this will give teachers more personalized learning and planning time. Schools leaders also say they’ll be providing social and emotional learning supports for families, teachers and students. This includes:
- telehealth and individual check-ins
- food distribution
- virtual extracurricular activities
- virtual open houses
- family resource guides
- professional development for teachers
- a drive-thru back-to-school resource distribution site
In a recent survey to parents and teachers, the majority of parents with elementary-aged school kids were favorable toward returning to school buildings, but a large number of families said they were not completely comfortable resuming in-person classes.
“I feel relieved that MNPS has decided to start the year online. The numbers are going up and at this time I think that this is the smart thing to do,” says Lorena Zezatti, a parent at Dupont Hadley Middle School in Old Hickory.
Zezatti says as much as she’d love for her kids to have a normal school year, she believes that distance learning is the best way to protect the health of students and teachers.
This is something that many teachers and the Metro Nashville Education Association also agree with. Many teachers worried that there wouldn’t be enough cleaning supplies to sanitize classrooms, and that social distancing would be tough enforce in school buildings.
Now, teachers who want to provide online instructions from their classrooms will be allowed to do so under significant safety and social distancing protocols. During the all-virtual phase, school building access will be restricted to employees, who will be provided with PPE and sanitizing products.
Addressing technology needs
In June, Nashville Mayor John Cooper announced that the city would purchase about 90,000 laptops and 17,000 internet hot spots for students. But it is unclear if students will receive the devices before the start of the school year — due to an increase in technology demands across the country. Previously, Metro Schools Superintendent Adrienne Battle said the most in-need students would be prioritized if the district doesn’t get enough laptops in time.
“MNPS will be a one-to-one technology district this school year,” says Battle. “Every student will be assigned a device of their own to use for learning, either in the classroom or at home.”
In the spring, school leaders loaned out 10,000 laptops when the coronavirus closed schools. However, about 20% of students lack internet access.
But even as the district sets to eliminate the digital divide, some parents are calling for a stronger commitment from school and city leaders.
“Today’s announcement is a confirmation of what parents have long suspected: remote learning will be a reality for a very long time. It’s why parents have been speaking out to demand action and to demand high-quality instruction,” says Sonya Thomas, the executive director of Nashville P.R.O.P.E.L, a parent and grandparent network. “But now there are many questions. How do we ensure every child has the tools they need? What are policymakers doing to prevent learning loss? What’s the next step forward?”
Thomas says she wants a guarantee from the district that they’ll reverse the learning loss caused by the spring and summer coronavirus shutdown. She also says all students need to be assessed at the beginning of the year, as well as provided with a tailored learning program to meet their individual needs.
Meanwhile, parents who need them will be able to pick up meals, learning supplies and technology devices at school distribution sites. New laptops will be distributed as they come in. School buses will also be available to deliver meals to families who can’t get to distribution sites. Meal pickup times will be decided by individual principals and food services staff.
KIPP Nashville, a charter network, has already made a decision to delay in-person classes for its students. The Nashville Charter Collaborative, an organization composed of the city’s public charter school leaders, will also open their schools virtually until at least Labor Day.