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OUR VIEW: TCSS trying to help teachers navigate

The Troup County School System voted Thursday night to turn two upcoming Mondays into virtual days for all students.

Those two Mondays are Sept. 28 and Nov. 2, so the first is just over a week away. Not surprisingly, the decision has been met with mixed reviews. Working parents now have to readjust their schedules and figure out how they are going to make sure their kids are taken care of on two non-holidays.

That’s a tough challenge, and we sympathize with parents who are trying to figure out those plans right now.

Several of us are parents as well, and we understand the challenges that a changing school schedule can create.

But, we also encourage parents to take a deep breath and think about what teachers have been dealing with over the first few weeks of school.

Teachers have been asked to learn a brand-new learning management software, Canvas, and have been dealing with constantly changing schedules as students decide to leave the classroom and go to virtual instruction.

In some cases — typically in middle school or high school — a teacher might be the only person who teaches a certain class. That class might’ve started all in-person and now might be half virtual and half in-person.

Whatever the mix, classes have completely changed its look from what it was at the beginning of school and teachers are having to adjust on the fly. That’s what happens when virtual schooling numbers increase like they have TCSS. At the start of school, TCSS’ virtual numbers were a little higher than estimated, but from our perspective, it felt like the school system felt OK with where the numbers fell. They were ready. And then — as we predicted — school started, COVID-19 cases were inevitably announced, and students started choosing to go virtual. The school system’s virtual numbers skyrocketed to a point where around 40 percent of all students were taking online classes.

That’s a number we’re not sure TCSS ever thought it would see, based on survey feedback from parents and community members in July.

And that one-way traffic caused a lot of problems. Originally, students could choose to go from in-person instruction to online classes at any time, but that traffic couldn’t go the other way. Students were restricted to going back to the classroom until the end of the first nine weeks in middle school and elementary school, and at the end of the first semester in high school.

But, after hearing that many students wanted to return to in-person instruction, TCSS changed the regulations. The school system is allowing all virtual students in all grade levels to decide by Sept. 25 if they want to return to in-person instruction on Oct. 13. 

TCSS is also restricting in-person students from going virtual after Sept. 25, unless there’s a hardship. Both were wise decisions and will allow TCSS to set its schedule for the rest of the semester, barring a COVID-19 outbreak.

Speaking of the coronavirus, the two virtual days will help plan for an outbreak, giving both teachers and students a chance to get more comfortable with virtual instruction. As several board members said Thursday night, this wasn’t a decision made lightly. TCSS needs to be prepared if COVID-19 forces a school to shut down, and teachers need two days to catch their breath after constant change and concern in the midst of a pandemic. We think that’s understandable.

Yes, in a perfect world, TCSS would’ve juggled this new management software, got all teachers up to speed and would have everything rolling smoothly at this point.

But when you consider some school systems haven’t even attempted in-person schooling yet, we think TCSS is off to a decent start to the school year. Everyone knew there would be hiccups. None of us have lived through a pandemic like this before, and everyone is having to adjust. Teachers have arguably adjusted more than anyone, and now they’re saying they really need these two days to work in their classrooms and train.

Hopefully, parents can understand.