Williamson County Schools made a major announcement Thursday in regards to the district's reopening plans for the fall semester, requiring grades three-12 to start the semester remotely.
“We decided that the wisest course for our students, faculty and staff is to apply our medium protocol of the school opening plan starting on our first day, Aug. 7,” WCS Superintendent Jason Golden said in a reopening announcement Thursday. “This plan allows for our youngest learners to be on campus with improved social distancing, something that cannot be achieved if all grades are on campus. This plan also promotes early literacy for our youngest children.”
According to the WCS reopening plan, students who are on campus will be required to wear masks, but Golden shared that there is a form parents can fill out to notify the schools “if their child is in a position where they actually can’t tolerate a cloth face covering.” He shared that this will prompt a discussion between parents and principals “to figure out what’s the best we can do to serve that child.”
Additionally, Golden said “many students with disabilities will receive services on campus based on their individualized needs, again with a goal towards socially distancing our students.”
Golden shared that he hopes all students who have chosen on-campus learning will be back in classrooms sooner rather than later.
“I’m optimistic about this school year,” he said. “Because of the work our county and community are doing, I’m also optimistic that, if we continue to work together, we will see these trends over the next few weeks change.”
The district’s reopening plan allows families to choose either on-campus learning or online learning for their children. While online learning will be unaffected, from an instructional standpoint, by fluctuations in the level of active COVID-19 cases in Williamson County, on-campus students may have to pivot between a classroom setting and remote learning model on their Chromebooks or electronic devices.
A recent WCS survey showed about 3% of parents were sure they would enroll their kids in online school, about 10% were undecided but leaning towards online, and an additional 22% were undecided and leaning towards on-campus. Golden said about 20% of families have spoken with their schools and expressed interest in online learning, and WCS recently extended the deadline for these families to choose to Sunday, July 26, at 5 p.m.
Committing to on-campus or online learning is important for the schools in terms of planning, Golden said, which is why there is not an option to choose online school later in the semester. He said he doesn’t expect that full 20% of families to commit to online learning.
“We’ve done a lot of work putting (online learning) together, but for so many children, there’s really no substitute for having that teacher on campus, and our goal is to get ourselves back on campus in a safe environment as quickly as we can,” he said.
Beyond the classroom, Golden mentioned that extracurriculars will be allowed to continue under the current protocols and will be coordinated by school principals, with sports following the TSSAA calendar. He mentioned as well that he expects the state to address the logistics of school testing.
Golden also shared that in the case of a localized outbreak, “there may be times when individual schools need to close” or operate under different protocols “when the entire district could stay actually on campus.”
While the recommendation from health officials for when a school member tests positive for the virus is to close that school down for two days — one to let the virus settle and one to perform a deep clean — Communications Director Carol Birdsong said the district will take this on a case-by-case basis. She said that may sometimes be the case, but depending on the situation, a school shutdown may not be necessary, considering the lessened exposure of students to one another and increased cleaning protocols and precautions compared to earlier this year.
Read a breakdown of on-campus, remote and online learning and their differences below, and watch the full reopening announcement from Golden and Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson on the WCS YouTube channel.
For more information, visit wcs.edu/reopening-framework.