Despite some concerns from members, the McMinn County School System plans for starting the next school year are still on schedule.

The board held a called meeting Wednesday night to voice their concerns on virtual learning.

The system’s current plan is for students to return to school for in-person learning with the option of virtual school for parents who do not feel comfortable sending their children back.

Many topics were discussed during the called meeting addressing issues such as: an alternative plan for full virtual learning, concerns of slander for virtual teachers, concerns for the home environment of virtual students, downloadable lessons and flash drives, camera control, group projects, online privacy and parent responsibility/reliability.

MCS Director Lee Parkison believes the hardest part of this transition will be the beginning stages.

“I guarantee in a few months that we will look at our learning process and laugh,” said Parkison. “This is the way of the future ... I can’t see this, other than the learning process, being anything but a plus for everybody.”

Board members Donna Cagle and Mike Cochran mentioned their concern over unauthorized people being able to view the virtual lessons.

“That is another myth that is going around, everybody in the world is not going to see this,” said Parkison. “The camera that the teachers will be using are on their computers and they will have control of that, the outside world does not see this, it is totally in-house.”

According to the plan, parental responsibility will consist of the parents undergoing training for virtual school, setting up a safe and quiet work space for their students at home and signing an agreement that they will follow computer and online etiquette.

“There will be a clause in there that says if a parent slanders a teacher in any way, then they will be removed from virtual school and will have to attend in person,” said Parkison. “We have to offer them school but we don’t necessarily have to offer them virtual school if they are just going to abuse the privilege.”

Teachers will be able to record live lessons to download onto flash drives for students who do not have internet access.

Cochran made a proposition to enlist more virtual teachers.

“With all of the unknowns, could we get virtual teachers separate from the classroom teachers to help lighten the load our teachers are facing,” inquired Cochran.

Parkison responded to the question by stating that it wouldn’t be financially feasible.

“We thought about every scenario we possibly could,” he said. “We could not afford it ... we have tried every scenario but we just could not make it work financially.”

Cochran stated his belief that students would not receive the same type of quality education when teachers are having to split their attention between students who are in class and virtual.

“There may be some truth to that but at the same time we are doing the best that we can do with the money that we have to do it with,” stated Parkison. “The state is telling us to do this and this plan is the way we have chosen and they have accepted that ... We have gone through these things, varying scenarios, for months and we just could not make those (the other choices) work.”

Parkison wants to be prepared to continue to deliver education to students in the county in the event of another shutdown.

“We could have an outbreak next week and then we would all be virtual instantly,” Parkison said. “That is the reality and that is exactly what the CARES Act was meant to do, to get us all ready to teach everybody at home and virtually.”

Parkison had previously requested for a delay in the reopening of schools to give the schools more time to prepare for their opening.

“I have confidence and I believe in our school system,” Parkison exclaimed. “I just do not think virtual learning will be an obstacle once we get through the learning curve ... This plan was approved by the state (Tuesday) with a few minor things to change, but this plan was approved and that is monumental.”

Schools are currently expected to return on Monday, Aug. 10.

Email shane.duncan

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