Responding to the “extremely fluid situation” surrounding the reopening of Bradley County Schools, the local system has announced it will expand online options for students who might be leery of returning to an in-person classroom.
In a statement Friday to the Cleveland Daily Banner, Bradley County Schools Director Dr. Linda Cash said full details of the enhanced plan will be released early this week.
Without going into specifics — because the details are still being finalized — Cash explained Bradley County Schools has determined the need to offer additional online options that will allow for increased virtual-learning opportunities.
With this opportunity, she stressed, students can still be associated with their home schools and be allowed to return to brick-and-mortar (in-school, in-person) learning as they feel ready.
Cash pointed out, “This option will be in addition to the in-person learning and the Bradley County Virtual School setting.”
As the Bradley County Schools director has stressed in prior announcements regarding the reopening of schools — one that has been complicated since March by the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic — the situation remains fluid because the facts, and the needs, keep changing and sometimes those changes have come day-to-day.
“We understand that this decision comes within a week of opening school, but it is our desire to make sure that our families have options when returning to the 2020-21 school year,” Cash stated. “We continue to deal with an extremely fluid situation and plans are changing daily.”
She added, “I just want to thank our staff, students and families for their continued patience and flexibility.”
Previously, Bradley County Schools had announced plans to reopen on Wednesday, Aug. 5. That date remains in place; however, it has since evolved into a strategy involving a staggered start which was announced a week ago.
Under the new plans for reopening, Aug. 5 will serve as an abbreviated day with virtual meetings. On Friday, Aug. 7, the staggered start will get underway based on alphabetical order of students’ last names.
Students whose last names begin with A through K will attend school in-person on Friday, Aug. 7, Tuesday, Aug. 11, and Thursday, Aug. 13. Students whose last names begin with L through Z will attend school in-person on Monday, Aug. 10, Wednesday, Aug. 12, and Friday, Aug. 14. And then, all students — A through Z — will return to school for a full day together on Monday, Aug. 17.
Those plans remain in place. What is changing, according to Cash’s statement Friday — and which will be further detailed within the next few days — is that additional online options will be announced for the benefit of parents and students who might be hesitant to return to in-person instruction this soon as the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise slowly in Bradley County.
Brittany Cannon, community and communications coordinator for Bradley County Schools, further pointed out that the school district plans to retain the cap of 300 on its virtual school program. However, the new option should provide an online platform for any county school system student who wants to take advantage of the opportunity, she explained.
“The new option that will be rolled out [later this week] allows students to still be associated with their home school and have the ability to go back [to in-person instruction] at any time,” Cannon said.
She added, “We will outline the differences, but this allows for everyone to have an option that best meets their needs.”
In her statement Friday, Cash pointed to the complexities in planning for the school district’s reopening because system administrators and staff are carefully balancing the concerns of parents and students with the needs of education and how it can be best laid out in this COVID-19 era.
The veteran educator and school system director repeated her sense of appreciation to the entire Bradley County Schools family for their perseverance in dealing with the uncertainties and impact of the pandemic.
“As we’ve stated before, this remains a very fluid situation and we continue to make changes accordingly,” Cash said. “For this reason, we thank our staff, students and families for their continued patience and flexibility.”
In a related, but completely separate, development last week, the Cleveland Board of Education approved a recommendation by Cleveland City Schools Director Dr. Russell Dyer to remove the cap of 300 on the city school system's virtual school.
Saying the city system was also dealing with a fluid situation involving the reopening of Cleveland schools, Dyer said a large number of applications for Cleveland City Virtual School had been received, more so than the current enrollment cap can accommodate.
Because of parental and student concerns about returning to in-person instruction, many are registering for virtual school which has strained the present cap. For this reason, Dyer recommended to the city board in a called session last Thursday that the cap be removed.
The director's recommendations also included extending the virtual school registration deadline to Tuesday, July 28.
Board members approved the recommendations.
"We felt it really important to move quickly," Dyer said of the latest changes to the city school system's offerings. "We said the plan would be very fluid and it is so fluid that we needed to meet."
Removing the 300-student cap from Cleveland City Virtual School to an unlimited number can be done because the school system has the capacity to do it, and it has the interest by parents and students, Dyer explained.