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OUR VIEW: Virtual students’ grades are troubling

School is currently out for winter break, but as we’ve written before, we think the first semester went about as well as anyone could’ve imagined.

Yes, students and teachers got sick with COVID-19, and thousands of people ended up quarantining, but looking back, it probably went about as well as it could have. We still remember how controversial it was when the Troup County School System announced that every student and employee would have to wear a mask, but it was obviously the right decision, and it’s helped slow the spread of COVID-19 in the schools.

We wrote that we were worried that a football season could be played, but the entire season was played, and it wrapped up with Callaway winning a state title.

A lot went right.

However, there’s a lot that can be learned from the first semester.

A lot of virtual students are failing classes right now and their grades are so poor that many of them wouldn’t be able to catch up during the rest of the school year.

The three high school principals — Jonathan Laney, Niki Watts and Alton White — met to come up with a solution and it was discussed at the final board meeting of the year.

The solution discussed at the TCSS board meeting was a good one. Students will essentially be given a half-credit “F” for the first semester, giving them a chance to earn a half credit over the remaining semester. Then, they can either make up the other half-credit “F” via a studies course or go to summer school, but at least it’ll give them an opportunity not to end the school year with seven “Fs.”

After all, this school year has been different and new for everyone — administrators, teachers, students.

We also want to be clear that virtual instruction is working for some students. White and Laney made that clear when they presented (Watts couldn’t be there), but unfortunately, many of the students taking virtual classes are students who need the extra help. White said that a lot of the failing virtual students have checked out completely, and he described their grades as being 20s, 30s and 40s.

This is a nationwide problem, so it’s not something we’re only seeing in Troup County, but the future of students will mostly be determined at the local level, based on how local school systems handle it.

And the numbers don’t lie. Laney said his virtual students (which make up 25% of Callaway’s enrollment) are failing more classes at this point in the school year than his entire student body was last year at this time.

Read that again. It’s terrifying.

TCSS needs to look at the numbers, figure out why so many virtual students are struggling and put together a plan to create more engagement in the future. But every school system is trying to do that, and we understand it’s not that simple.

But education seems to be moving virtual, and students aren’t always going to be behind desks for eight hours a day. Things are changing quickly, and this pandemic pushed those changes into hyper speed.

However, for now, it’s clear that students in a traditional classroom are faring much better, not only in Troup County, but around the country.

The numbers show that students need to be in the classroom. We understand there are risks, and that may not be possible for every student, but for the majority of students, it’s clear that a traditional learning environment is best.

With that fact in mind, we encourage parents to reconsider sending their virtual students back to the traditional classroom. We write every day about COVID-19 and how it has impacted this community and continues to impact it, so we understand that solution doesn’t work for everyone.

Gathering in any setting comes with some risk at this time, but doing so in a spaced-out classroom, with masks on, is about as safe as it can be done.

But there are now months and months of data on TCSS and how it’s handled COVID-19, and from our perspective, it’s going about as smoothly as school during a pandemic can go.

For parents who can’t stomach sending their kids back to school, we encourage you to get more involved. Stay on top of your students’ assignments, get in touch with their teacher and be very on top of what they’re doing. It appears a lot of students are falling through the cracks and have no one at home that is checking their work.

Too many students are failing right now in virtual classes, and unless something changes, our students are going to fall well behind where they need to be.

We’re halfway through the school year, so it’s a good time to re-evaluate how things are going. If your student(s) are in the virtual learning academy, we hope you’ll consider the options and how they are doing before the school year starts back in January.