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Board fights for student protections

By Meg Dickens
Staff Writer

In what School Board Chairman Howard Carlton called “an unprecedented year,” Johnson County Schools officials have been hard at work trying to protect students, faculty, and staff from the COVID-19 pandemic. Some added protective measures include digital learning, extra cleaning, mask regulations, and quarantine time. In light of this illness, few people think about how state regulations set to help could be a hindrance in these unique circumstances. The Johnson County School Board continues to petition the state for leniency on currently impractical rules.

One of the main issues the Board has been protesting is chronic absenteeism. According to the American Federation of Teachers, chronic absenteeism is “ missing at least 10 percent of days in a school year for any reason, including excused and unexcused absences.” Tennessee requires 180 days of learning. One case of quarantine could amass up to ten absences. As of Friday, October 9, 206 students were in quarantine.

Although attendance is critical, some circumstances are out of anyone’s control. Students with any symptoms similar to COVID-19 are sent home, and those with family members that may be contagious also have to stay home. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, Johnson County had 290 cases as of October 12, and Tennessee cases continue to skyrocket.

“I wish the State Department would get rid of chronic absenteeism for the 2021 school year, but they are not going to,” Director of Schools Mischelle Simcox said during the earlier discussion. “ I think that’s something we’re going to have to realize as a district. We’re saying if your child is sick, keep them at home. They shouldn’t be punished for that.”

COVID-19 interrupted instruction time and student learning. According to Simcox, school boards across Tennessee have sent resolution letters to the state, asking that the state of Tennessee request the House and Senate to either cancel state standardized testing for 2020-2021 or relax requirements. This way district rankings and other related statistics count as a benchmark instead of “counting it against” students, teachers, and schools.

There is no definitive answer, but officials are still fighting. Simcox reports that a group spoke to Senator Marsha Blackburn about chronic absenteeism on the phone on Wednesday, October 7. They have also worked out a way to count school sent home students’ absences as Nurse Excused Absences, which count as Distance Learning. Both the moratorium on testing resolution and the Hold Harmless Legislation resolution, which helps schools maintain its current BEP funding for the upcoming school year, were approved by the Board.

The Johnson County School Board meets the second Thursday of each month for its regularly scheduled meetings. View board meetings live or through archives on the Johnson County Schools TN Video YouTube channel. For more information on Johnson County Schools, visit jocoed.net.