NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Metro Nashville Public Schools announced Friday they’ll be staying virtual after the Martin Luther King holiday as their COVID-19 Risk Score remains too high to go back, but some parents say the numbers MNPS should be focusing on instead are their children’s grades.
In the fall, MNPS launched virtually on Schoology with a Florida-based learning program.
Some parents tell News 2 that the online program is too difficult to understand, their school-appointed technology is failing them, and, on top of that, there’s not enough actual instruction from teachers, which means students are trying to teach themselves subjects like statistics and chemistry on random websites.
As of January 7, 18.4 percent of the district was marked as failing.
“I have two academically gifted kids and one that has a disability, so I run the gamut,” MNPS parent Amy Pate told News 2, “I never knew that there were these things called letters of concern that they mail to you when your kid has a failing grade ’cause I’d never gotten one before, and it’s not that we don’t try to stay on top of it and we don’t help them…we’re working full time, managing three kids full time.”
Parent Danielle Brown has a similar story with her 11th grader, “There’s just not enough time in the classroom that is given, compared to the caseload of work that they have to do. There are times where he may have five to six assignments due on one day,” she said.
While most people say it is easier for high schoolers to learn online, Brown said not every student can teach themselves the courses her son is taking.
“This semester, we’re doing chemistry, integrated math, personal finance, and English…so we’re kinda like out here in left field,” Brown explained.
MNPS’s decision to reopen for in-person learning is based on their COVID-19 Risk Score which is the city’s transmission rate, 7-day positivity rate, and average new cases together. They’ll reopen at a 7 or below. As of Monday, they were at an 8.5.
An emergency physician and parent wrote into the school board Monday saying this is not a sustainable way to measure safety in schools.
“The COVID risk score would likely better benefit our community as a whole for when we should reopen restaurants, tourist spots, bars, transpotainment, sporting events, and music venues. I do not believe it accurately addresses the school system’s ability to host in-person learning. I believe that we need more school-driven metrics – perhaps how many children are actively infected per 100K, active cases of MNPS students, etc.,” wrote Dr. James Parnell with Sumner Regional.
“We have had the top epidemiologist, infectious disease experts who have tried to advise us how we can get our kids back in school safely, and yet we’re still not there,” said MNPS Board of Education member Fran Bush.
“Something is not happening soon enough, or it’s not being listened to. Because when this city is open, open 100 percent for business, our schools should be open 100 percent for education.”
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics: “School transmission mirrors but does not drive community transmission” and “it appears that children younger than 10 years are less likely to become infected and less likely to spread infection to others, although further studies are needed.“
“The schools being closed is only hurting students, and only hurting metro students, because they’re the only ones around us that have had no opportunity to be inside a school building for over 300 days,” Pate exclaimed.
According to the district’s public records, truancies in MNPS are up 14 percent from this time last year with 26.9 percent getting D’s and F’s.
Bush adds that some parents are so fed up, they’ve decided to leave the district all together.
“They have decided to leave our district, they’ve put up their homes for sale, they have left and stayed with relatives in other counties,” Bush said.
“We can’t pay $90,000 a year on elementary schools,” Pate said referring to private schools in Nashville that are open. “I worry about the decisions I’m making for them every day, but it’s not that easy…I grew up in metro schools I grew up in this area, I don’t have to have to move 30, 45 minutes out of town just so my kids can go in a school building,” she said.
MNPS Spokesperson Sean Braisted responded to these concerns in an email Monday:
“We understand that the pandemic has been difficult for everyone and are hopeful that the spread of COVID-19 will get under control so that it will be safe to bring students whose parents chose that option back into the classroom. Students with exceptional needs and those in Pre-K-4 will be the first to go back in-person once the COVID-19 metrics return to safer levels, as they were last semester. The level of spread has been at its highest level since the pandemic began and we are looking for that to improve before it’s safe to offer in-person learning.
Teachers and school staff are working to meet the individual needs of students in this virtual learning environment with classroom instruction, office hours, and the Navigator program launched this year. We are currently in the process of conducting MAP testing to gauge individual learning progress of students and provide additional learning support to address specific challenges. The district is also staffing virtual help centers at four area high schools to help students or parents with technology challenges.”
The Metro Nashville Education Association (MNEA) also advocates for virtual learning to keep teachers and staff safe from the virus. Several districts that have opened, included the few grade levels of MNPS that had returned in the fall, ultimately closed at points due to outbreaks and quarantines, leaving schools severely short staffed.
MNEA released survey results at the end of October of 620 elementary and exceptional education staff members stating that “MNPS teachers overwhelmingly indicated that they did not feel safe and would strongly prefer to return to a virtual setting.”
The message from teacher unions across the state has been that teachers can’t teach if they are not alive.
Parents say they understand the concerns of some, but have also spoken to several staff members that are struggling teaching virtually just as much as their students are learning.
They also expressed concerns about the social and emotional toll virtual learning is having on their children.
“It’s not even just about the grades, it’s about the depression and the isolation that comes along with it,” Pate explained, “I see my introverted child becoming more introverted, going more and more into her shell. I see my now teenager becoming more aggressive and more frustrated.”
Stay with News 2 for continuing coverage of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
COVID-19 in Tennessee
(This reflects what the TDH reports each day. )