Rogersville City School to offer online programs due to COVID-19; First school day moved from Aug. 10 to Aug. 17

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rogersville City School will be offering some new online programs in order to accommodate those families who don’t feel comfortable sending their child to in-person classes but still want an RCS education.

The system also moved the first day of instruction from August 10 to August 17 to “make sure that we are ready to live stream our classes in real time,” as their Facebook page reads.

Virtual education

“Rogersville City School is a small, intimate enough district that we would like to get our teaches to a point where they are delivering instruction both in-class and live-streaming that to students who might be attending from home,” J.T. Stroder, the school’s newly-appointed Superintendent told the board at their recent meeting. “Ideally, we will get them (teachers) to a point where they’re comfortable. When they come in on a regular day to teach their schedule, they will have students in that classroom, and they may have four or five students up on a screen who are attending from home. That way they’re delivering their instruction and doing it in real-time.”

He also noted that no teacher is going to be asked to teach any larger class size than usual—including online-only students.

“Now, we all know that there are some students who just can’t function very well with online programs, and there are students who don’t have internet access,” Stroder added. “But, we’re planning to create opportunities for those students to be in class with their teacher.”

He added, “we want to make sure that the lower grades have as much face-to-face classroom time with a teacher as possible. Then, maybe moving to more hybrid models as we move on up. But, we know we have parents who really want the online format.”

20 percent of parents want online

In fact, he noted that the system sent out a parent survey the week before the board meeting.

“Based on polling our parents, it looks like we could have upwards of 20 percent of our students in kindergarten through eighth grade whose parents want an online option,” Stroder said. “That’s a little over 100 kids. The surprising part of that survey was that the largest percentage of parents who want their students to be online were at that lower level—kindergarten, first and second grades.”

He added, “We’re trying to get our teachers to a point where we’re not asking them to change a whole heck of a lot –other than getting them comfortable with the idea that they have students both in-class and online and how to manage that daily interaction between those two groups of students.”

Different than other online education models

He noted that one of the main differences between RCS’s online option and that of other districts is that other districts offer online options through online-based programs such as “Edgenuity;” whereas RCS teachers will actually be teaching these classes.

“We want our TEACHERS to teach, we want them to teach as they’ve always taught, and we want to teach what they’ve always taught,” Stroder told the board. “We want to provide that to all of our students.”

“I think this is a wonderful idea,” said BOE member and retired teacher Barbara Combs. “Once the teacher gets used to it, it won’t be any extra, added lesson planning. As an ex-teacher, it sounds better than anything I’ve heard or read about.”

Potentially gaining new students

BOE member Todd Biggs also noted that this option means that RCS could potentially gain students from outside the district who might have otherwise decided to be homeschooled.

“I was speaking with some family over the weekend about Mr. Stroder’s vision (for online programs), and my niece who lives in Knoxville said, ‘I may send my kids to RCS,’” said Shane Bailey, who is the District Testing Coordinator and Attendance Supervisor. “Other districts offer online programs, but you can’t get in virtual school what you get going here. I just call it the ‘heart.’ These kids who will potentially be online are going to be a PART of this school.”

Staying prepared

“We don’t want to be where we were in April again,” Stroder said. “We don’t want to be in a place where the state says ‘shut down,’ and we panic. With this format, if we can get our teachers comfortable with it, it’s an easy transition for them.”

He also noted that, unless the state explicitly forbids it, teachers will have the ability to teach from their classrooms even if the system goes into the “red” phase.

Looking at Epi Curves

RCS did release their reopening plan on July 8 and sent it out to students and staff for feedback, but new Superintendent J.T. Stroder told the BOE at their recent meeting that this is a “working document.”

In fact, he noted that there have been a few changes made to the document since it was initially released:

One of those changes was the switch from defining the three phases by “Ro,” which refers to Basic Reproductive Number, or the number of new infections resulting from a single infected person, to defining the three phases by “Epi curves.

Hawkins Co. School system uses Epi curves as well, and these are determined by the Tennessee Department of Health.

An Epi Curve, according to the CDC, is “a visual display of the onset of illness among cases associated with an outbreak.”

The Epi Curve for each county in the state can be viewed on TDH’s website and is updated daily.

Operating in the “yellow”

Epi Curves measure the average rate of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 county residents over the last 14 days. It also identifies a threshold of 10 active new cases per 100,000 residents over the last 14 days.

If the county rises above the threshold of 10, the school system begins operating in the “yellow” phase. If the number of new cases accelerates rapidly or there is a complete shutdown of the community, the school advances into the “red” phase.

“Green means we’re a ‘go’ and we’re planning on coming back as we were before COVID-19 but with some exceptions,” Stoder told the board. “We plan on checking temperatures when kids enter the building. We’re also working on protocols for testing students and staff. All staff would be tested and have their temperature taken when the building. These protocols would also cover what happens if we have a student who turns up positive and how we handle that.”

However, a few days after the BOE’s meeting, the county rose above that “10” threshold.

On July 22, TDH’s website identified Hawkins County’s rate of new cases as 11.19, with an average of 6.36 new cases over the last 14 days.

Thus, Stroder announced the following message on the school’s website:

“At our current rate it looks like we might be returning to school under yellow. Which means we will be in a hybrid model with some students in a classroom and the remaining students at home. We will share more with you in the coming days on what this will look like.”

He also noted that the school will release the finalized return to school plan on their website and Facebook page this week. As of press time on Thursday morning, this had not yet been released.

More information on specific operating procedures for each phase can be found on the school’s website, http://www.rcschool.net/.