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Superintendent bets against WCS mask requirement come fall

‘There’s nothing definitive,’ Golden says

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WCS Trinity Elementary student

A teacher assists a student at Trinity Elementary School during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Williamson County Schools Superintendent Jason Golden said at Thursday's WCS Board of Education meeting while he cannot be sure, he guesses that masks will not be required on campus during the upcoming school year.

“It’s hard for me to visualize, based on the information we have now with what the president has announced about the distribution of the vaccine, that we’re going to be in a position at the beginning of this school year where we’re going to require masks,” Golden said, referring to President Joe Biden’s announcement Thursday asking states to open the COVID-19 vaccine to all adults by May 1.

Golden emphasized he cannot give a definitive answer on whether or not masks will be required in the fall or even the rest of this semester, but the district is continuing to monitor the metrics of the pandemic and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials’ guidance.

“What I’ve learned from this pandemic is there’s nothing definitive, but what I can give you is my educated guess,” he said. “We’re looking at this on a regular basis, on a weekly basis.”

The school board held its monthly work session on Thursday during which Golden and the board discussed COVID-19 updates; “learning loss” summer camps, a statewide initiative established through legislation; and the district’s work with a diversity and inclusion firm it hired last month, Fostering Healthy Solutions.

Vaccination numbers are on the rise, and COVID-19 numbers are slowly waning in Williamson County. Golden said the district, which was approved by the state as a COVID-19 vaccine distribution site for its employees, was able to administer 2,570 doses of the Moderna vaccine to its staff members, and the second doses will be given by April 1.

However, Golden shared he will watch COVID-19 numbers closely during that time, as WCS has seen case numbers spike after holidays, such as after Thanksgiving and winter break, and the beginning of April marks two weeks after spring break.

“That window of time is going to be very telling on where the virus is,” he said.

WCS Executive Director of COVID Response Gary Anderson said Williamson County is one of two counties in the state with the highest percentage of total COVID-19 cases falling within the 11–20 age bracket. He shared that 25% of the county’s cases have been school-aged children.

Currently, the district’s and county’s active case numbers reflect the numbers from late September and early October.

WCS Online will be a little different next year 

Some board members expressed concern around the district’s deadline for families to choose between in-person learning and WCS Online — March 23 — worrying that parents will not have adequate information about the fall semester to make a decision.

District 9 board member Rick Wimberly said COVID-19 case numbers could change drastically after that date, and Dan Cash, from District 2, stated some parents may make their decision based on whether or not masks are required.

Golden reiterated he cannot give a definitive answer on whether or not masks will be required. To Wimberly’s concern, Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools Leigh Webb shared delaying the deadline for families to choose their students’ learning format would risk school not starting on time.

What is definitive about the upcoming school year is that WCS Online will include synchronous, or real-time, learning for middle school students, while high school courses will be primarily asynchronous, or student-driven. Webb further shared while teachers have given positive feedback on some high school Edgenuity courses, which will be retained for next year, online middle school courses will move away from Edgenuity, and teachers will provide their own instruction through Schoology.

Webb said so far, about 1,000 students have committed to WCS Online for the upcoming school year, but she added that over half of WCS families have yet to make a decision. She expects 1,300-1,500 high schoolers and 800-1,000 middle schoolers will choose online learning.

‘Learning loss’ summer camps will be four weeks long 

Golden said WCS will hold four-week state-funded “learning loss” summer camps, which will run from Monday through Thursday and include four hours of math and English/language arts instruction per day.

Assistant Superintendent of Teaching, Learning and Assessment Dave Allen shared that “priority students,” about 10% of the student body chosen by the results of universal screeners, will be the first to have the option to engage in this voluntary program.

The district’s School Age Child Care program will be available during these camps, Allen added, and while the camps themselves will be free to students, families will have to pay for SACC.

Diversity consultant sets rough schedule

After the board voted to enter into a contract with Fostering Healthy Solutions last month, the diversity and inclusion firm worked with the district to create a rough schedule for its work.

Over the next month or so, the firm hopes to hold conversations about “diversity, equity and inclusion leadership” with principals, assistant principals and the board. Additionally, the firm will send out surveys to stakeholder groups and, starting April 10, hold nine “listen and learn” sessions with stakeholders.

“When you hear ‘listen and learn’ in your professional work, what do you think? You’re going to listen, and you’re going to learn. It’s the opposite here: it is the Fosters listening and learning from our stakeholders,” Golden said.

Finally, in April and May, Fostering Healthy Solutions will work with the district to put together a strategic plan regarding diversity and inclusion.

As next week is spring break, the Williamson County Schools Board of Education will meet for its voting meeting on Monday, March 22, at 6:30 p.m. The meeting can be streamed live at WCS.edu.

(1) comment

VictorA

Finally! Some common sense from the top! How about this idea - No Mask Mandate and WCS will be full open this fall - given the stats from this virus on those under the age of 30 it should be a no brainer! But, WCS policy should be that if you feel more comfortable using virtual learning and wearing a mask, accommodations will be made - common sense is so very simple, far less complicated than power grabs from the top!

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