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Johnson County Schools plan around virtual learning obstacles

Johnson County Schools has approximately 800 mobile devises for their 2,100 students to use. With funds from the CARES Act, the school board has ordered 1,100 plus Chromebooks to help students start this year’s virtual learning. The devices are on back order and expected to arrive at the end of September at the earliest.

By Meg Dickens
Staff Writer

Johnson County Schools decided to go fully virtual from August 17 to August 28 and then re-evaluate later during a called School Board meeting on Wednesday, August 5. Virtual learning seems to be the safest option during the COVID-19 pandemic but comes with its own unique set of problems. Right now, the main issue is availability.

Johnson County is considered a poor county. The nonprofit organization Women of Mountain City is in the process of expanding WiFi availability in the area by offering free access at Ralph Stout Park. Executive Director and President Olivia Stelter explained during an interview that roughly only 35 percent of people in Johnson County have access to secure WiFi.

Johnson County Schools is taking steps to help students gain access during the pandemic as well. During the called meeting, officials agreed to offer free WiFi outside of schools and the Central Office building. That way, students with devices can gain access from the parking lots without risking exposure. However, not everyone has a device.

According to Director of Schools Mischelle Simcox, the school system has around 800 mobile devices available for student use right now. This could be a major issue during virtual learning, considering that there are approximately 2,100 students enrolled. Schools all around the nation are reportedly facing similar situations and are scrambling to find devices.

“We do have a limited amount of mobile devices,” Director Simcox explained. “We ordered 1,100 Chromebooks through our CARES Act. However, they are telling us right now that we will not receive these until the end of September, maybe later than that.”

There have been some adjustments to expectations to make sure things run as smoothly as possible. Officials say that any device with a keyboard will do, and families can share a device. Student attendance will no longer revolve around logging in at a specific time because of that. Johnson County Schools plans to use project-based attendance, which means students will be considered present after turning in assigned work.

The Johnson County School Board’s regular monthly meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Thursday, August 13. Any interested party can watch the meeting live or its playback on the Johnson County Schools TN Video Youtube Channel.