A little more than 100 students have opted for the Oneida Special School District’s virtual option to start the 2020-2021 school year.
According to OSSD Director Dr. Jeanny Phillips, 116 students had signed up for the school system’s Virtual Education Program as of Friday, the deadline for doing so.
Like many other school systems across Tennessee — including the Scott County School System — Oneida is giving students the option to attend classes physically or virtually, in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The deadline for county students to sign up for the virtual option is July 31.
The Oneida students who signed up for the virtual option represent about 10% of the school system’s total number of students — which was a little more than 1,200 last school year.
At Oneida Elementary School, 58 students opted for virtual learning, or about 11% of the school’s total students. At the middle school, 31 students signed up for the online option, also about 11% of the total. At the high school, 27 students are going the virtual route, or about 7%.
OSSD’s VEP calls for students to be online and active for seven hours daily — 4.5 hours for kindergarten and pre-K students — with learning consisting of a variety of lessons, activities and assignments through videos, conferences and online assignments.
As will be the case with the county’s virtual option, participation is mandatory. Students who do not participate in Zoom conferences and discussion boards will be counted absent, and grades could be affected. On-campus tutoring and remediation sessions will be required for students who fail to abide by the VEP agreement, and those students could ultimately be required to attend classes in person. Teachers and staff will have designated office hours each school day to provide assistance.
While students who begin the school year in person could ultimately switch to the virtual option — the school system has said those cases will be handled on an individual basis — students who begin the school year in the virtual program will be required to finish the term before having the option to return to school in person.
With the numbers in mind, the vast majority of Oneida students will be attending classes physically when school starts next month. While classes are currently scheduled to begin August 6, there is a possibility that could change. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is expected to make an announcement regarding schools this week, although no one seems to have insight on what the announcement might include. Dr. Phillips told the Independent Herald there is the possibility of changes to Oneida’s reopening schedule, as well, as the situation continues to be monitored.
Coronavirus is expected to cause disruptions to the school year — at least for individual students who might become sick or be exposed to someone who is, if not for entire schools or entire school districts. In Alcoa, the first public school district in East Tennessee to return to class, a middle school student tested positive for coronavirus just three days in, the school district announced Friday. While the quick turn-around between schools opening and the student becoming sick almost guarantees that they did not contract the virus at school, anyone in close contact with the student at school will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days. The school system did not say how many students or teachers that impacted.
That will be the case locally, as well. If a student or teacher tests positive for coronavirus, other students and school faculty and staff who were determined to be in close contact with the student will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days. And — for now, at least, and unless the Dept. of Health’s guidelines are modified — students or teachers who are determined to have been in close contact with someone who is sick with coronavirus symptoms will be required to self-quarantine until the sick person’s test results are returned.
Dr. Phillips told the IH last week that the school system has a plan in place for dealing with the potential disruptions.
“Our protocol is to notify the health department immediately if we become aware of a potential exposure or diagnosis,” she said. “The health department will contact the family and do a contact investigation and provide the school with proper guidance on how to proceed with any necessary quarantines or closings. If there is potential symptoms, the student will be taken to a designated area. All schools have a guidance document from the TN Department of Education that we will use to assist us as we encounter these situations but we will ultimately follow the lead of the Health Department.”