MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WTVF) — Rutherford County School Board members voted to stick to their initial plan of in-person classes with a virtual learning option for all parents but adjusted the start date to begin the year with half-days.
The board met Tuesday night in a special-called meeting to decide if they needed to make any changes amid the COVID-19 pandemic. They decided to stick with a reopening date of August 10.
However, instead of Aug. 10 being the first full day of class, the board voted to change it to registration day. Aug. 11 through Aug. 14 will be half-day phase in days making the first full day of instruction Monday, Aug. 17.
"I think we also have to agree the safety of our children is a high priority as well and we should acknowledge that these are complex decisions and there are no easy answers here," said parent and cardiologist Fayaz Malik.
He wasn't the only doctor who had a child in Rutherford County Schools.
"Delay the start of schools until after Labor Day, this so teachers have time to get comfortable with the distance learning platform," said Dr. Nicolas Cote.
School Board members decided against that request. But not everyone who gave public comment was against re-opening so soon.
"Because this will be my last year, I’ll like to be able to experience it in person. I already lost the last bit of 7th grade which would have been the most exciting part of the year," said soon-to-be 8th grade student Madilyn Rigsby, "I want us to have the option to attend school in person; I understand we need to keep the students and faculty safe but we also need to protect the knowledge and serenity of everyone.
Some supporters of re-opening schools stood in the meeting with signs.
Students, staff and visitors will be in mask or face covering until the end of the year or an early decision to change the policy.
School Board member Lisa Moore read an open letter from a local chiropractor who believed mask weren’t really necessary.
"Face mask do not effectively block the transmission of viral respiratory meticulous and should not be worn by healthy individuals," said Moore reading the letter.
Dr. Cote shouted from the room, "this is a chiropractor, to be clear, I’m not trying to be rude."
A Rutherford County deputy yelled “That’s enough” and Cote stopped talking.
A woman was removed by deputies for speaking out against Moore's comments.
Just about 9200 students or roughly 17% out of 48,000 will do distant learning from home.
Director of Schools Bill Spurlock said last week, he's keeping that case count in mind as they determine whether reopening plans need to change.
“It was well-thought-out with options, and it's kind of ironic that just about every school system that has taken this approach has provided that option also. However, as we look at our data, we know that there's some things that we need to discuss, and I look for that opportunity on [Tuesday, July 28],” Spurlock said.
Following the board’s decision, Director Spurlock said the district and schools will have procedures and protocols in place to minimize exposure of COVID-19 for students and employees. including a mask mandate, social distancing and limiting student migration throughout school buildings.
Those parents who would like to opt for the distance-learning option can do now through Aug. 5. The procedures and forms are also available on the district's website.
Earlier this month, Rutherford County Schools announced that all schools would reopen traditionally, giving parents the option of in-person or virtual learning. At its most recent meeting, school board members unanimously voted to require students and faculty to wear masks when school starts.
However, some feel that plan does not go far enough in protecting students and teachers and want the district to start the year remotely for everyone – like Metro Nashville Public Schools, who announced the school year would begin remotely and continue virtually until at least Labor Day.
Rutherford County still has the third-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state, with more than 5,500 cases.
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