Washington County Reopens Schools as the Tennessee General Assembly Mulls School Funding Incentives

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The Washington County Schools (WCS) announced plans to bring back all students for in-person classes five days a week starting Monday – but hazardous road conditions led the district to announce school closures through Tuesday.

The move comes as lawmakers consider a potential bill, HB 7021, that would curtail funding for schools that did not open up for a minimum of 70 days before June 30. The school district’s Board of Education voted last week to bring students back.

The bill has not passed, but the tight deadline means that school districts have to consider if it will pass and change current policy accordingly.

The WCS vote reversed a previous decision to have the district remain virtual through next week, February 8.

WCS Director of Schools Dr. Bill Flanary (pictured above) told the board on January 26, “We’re aware of a bill making its way through the Tennessee General Assembly that would require school systems to have 70 days of in-person learning in school here or risk being de-funded.”

Flanary said, “We can count 16 days that we were in a blended format toward the 70, that leaves us nine days to play with.”

Those nine days would not be enough to allow students to alternate days in-person. Flanary said he guessed that snow days would not count against the district, but the district is limited in the amount of snow days it can take. Additionally, board members were concerned about the potential need to use snow days to vaccinate teachers for COVID-19, since there is little advance notice of when vaccines would be available. Flanary said if the district ran out of snow days, they could extend the school year or lengthen each school day to make up the time.

Other members suggesting using virtual classes as a way to save snow days. Flanary said that strategy requires enough advance notice to warn teachers that they needed to be prepared for a virtual school day. On Monday and Tuesday, students were not required to report to online classes.

The board also decided to honor contracts from parents who wanted their children to remain virtual.

“You’ve got to figure, the medically fragile kids should have the option to stay home, ” Flanary said.

For everyone else, class will begin Wednesday. Other Tri-City-area schools are making similar decisions – Kingsport City Schools is scheduled to re-open February 8, Greenville City Schools will return February 22,  and Elizabethton City Schools is scheduled to start bringing all students back February 4 and 5.

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network.  Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Dr. William Flanary” by Washington County District of Education.

 

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