NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Virtual learning was one of the biggest challenges for school districts across Tennessee including Metro Nashville Public Schools.
The new school board chair for MNPS, Christiane Buggs, said the pandemic brought the digital divide to the forefront. However that was not her only concern with virtual learning.
“On top of just bandwith issues or on top of having to distribute actual devices and having to support students and families, and setting the devices up, not just setting up the hotspots and what it means to troubleshoot. We also realized there are young people who don’t know what a browser is. They’re not quite sure what it means to go to a search bar, to the search engine, to Google something. You’d think children would know how to just Google but how would they if they’ve never seen it, if they’ve never been taught it,” Buggs said.
Buggs is a Nashville native who also taught in Metro Schools. She said the pandemic also highlighted long-known inequities in MNPS, and with public education itself.
“To have some of our less disenfranchised or more affluent community members feeling uncomfortable and feeling the inequities themselves, seeing that public education has not ever quite gotten the support, the resources, or the elevation that it needed. I think that is what’s making me feel that now more than ever we have to strike while the iron is hot,” said Buggs.
She added that one of her main goals was to elevate the voices of people who typically have not been at the table. Buggs hopes the MNPS survey due September 15th will help to elevate those voices as well.
“As a teacher, I really didn’t understand how important it was to advocate how important it is to have a balance of voices. I need to hear from all the different demographics we serve. I need to hear from a diverse community to really understand what is the true desire, what are the true needs,” she said. “Is it we are only hearing from one section of the city and that’s why we are making the decisions we make? And if that’s the case we’ve got to balance out that power. I just need parents to feel empowered to feel like they should and they can engage us.”
She said seeing other school districts and universities deal with COVID-19 challenges made her more focused on safety above all else when making decisions during the pandemic.
“Every situation is disheartening right now but more than anything there is no way that I am able to risk one person. Whether it’s a student, a teacher, or a family member that those people go home to. It makes my heart ache when I think about the 758 cases based on in person learning or when I look at the University of Tennesse Knoxville that had to cancel a game or two, they actually had to cancel scrimmage because they have 44 student athletes out,” said Buggs. “That is what narrowly makes me focus on the idea that we’ve got to prioritize safety. I completely understand the inequities that have always been here that are now exacerbated. But I also cannot – I just can’t risk a person. So to hear anyone in the community suggest that well there aren’t many cases, or there aren’t many deaths, one death is one too many.”
News 2 digs deeper into how schools are moving forward safely for the new academic year. See how other districts around Middle Tennessee are handling everything from classroom concerns to the future of sports in our special series. Click here to see more.