Class action: Students to go back in schools


The Wise County School Board has voted 7-1 to send students back into schools on a four-day weekly schedule.

The decision was made Monday night in a meeting continued from last Tuesday.

Students will go to school Monday through Thursday, with Fridays reserved as office hours for teachers who will be available from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. All students still have the option to continue in remote learning.

After a tie vote last week, the board asked Superintendent Greg Mullins and his staff to conduct a new survey to have updated information on which students will be attending in person and which students will continue to be virtual.

The new results reflected that out of 5,602 families surveyed, 3,672 preferred some form of in-person learning while 1,582 wanted to remain all-virtual.

All students are required to wear masks “any time they are on the move,” according to Mullins. This includes getting up from their assigned desk to go anywhere.

“If they go throw something away, they put their mask on,” Mullins said. “If they get up to go to the bathroom, they have to wear a mask.”

Mullins also shared that with the new numbers, 20 classrooms in either primary or middle school as well as 73 high school blocks would not be able to socially distance and would be required to wear masks in their classrooms.

Previously, the board adopted a hybrid plan that saw the students separated into two different groups attending on different days of the week. But in last week’s meeting, board members Mark Raymond and Martha Jett suggested sending students back five days per week.

According to several members of the school board, most teachers were concerned about the possibility of a hybrid classroom, fearing that their focus would be on the students in front of them and that virtual students would be left behind.

Board member John Graham expressed his concerns that since the students would be returning to class and the food delivery service would cease, some students who remained virtual would be left not able to pick up their week’s supply of food. Mullins advised that when the service started, they were required to account for each meal delivered. Those guidelines are being relaxed and they will be able to have someone else pick it up for them if their parents cannot do so.

Graham was also curious if students will be allowed to go back to in-person learning if they chose the online option. Mullins advised that any student who requested to be virtual must adhere to that. They can contact the principal to discuss the possibility, but they may have to wait until a spot opens up. It will still be possible for any student to transfer to remote learning at any time. If a student does become ill or is required to quarantine, they will be able to attend classes online until they are able to return to in-person classes.

Graham also expressed concerns with bus routes. Mullins advised in the beginning, it will not be perfect. They will have additional bus drivers and buses on standby. There may be instances when a second bus will be required on some routes to keep the 3-foot social distancing rule. Mullins reaffirmed that masks will be mandatory on all buses. Mullins also advised that all students, whether on the bus, in the classroom or at lunch, will have assigned seats to cut down on cross-contamination and to make contact tracing more efficient in any case of a COVID-19 diagnosis.

Board member Donnese Kern requested that the board be updated once weekly with current county school COVID-19 statistics, including a breakdown for each school zone, so the board can continue to review. Mullins will be providing a weekly spreadsheet.

Board member Vicki Williams cast the only dissenting vote.