ROGERSVILLE — Several parents told the Rogersville City School Board of Education on Tuesday they want their children back in school, just as children are attending classes in other area school systems, including Hawkins County.

Last week, the independent K-8 RCS announced that it would be 100% virtual at least through Dec. 18 when the two-week Christmas break begins.

RCS Superintendent J.T. Stroder said during Tuesday’s ZOOM BOE meeting he is aware that Hawkins County is awaiting doses of COVID-19 vaccine. That shipment could be available before the end of December.

“We do know the vaccine is coming,” Stroder said. “Our hope is that after the Christmas holidays we think we’re going to be able to at least move back to the hybrid schedule (half attends two days, the other half attends the other two days, all virtual on Friday) that we were (previously) under. Ideally, we would like to do more than that, but we’re just not in a position to know yet.”

Stroder added, “We’re planning on meeting over the Christmas break, just to try to keep track of the numbers and monitor where we’re at in terms of getting the vaccine. Just stay tuned and we’ll update the community as much as we can, where we’re at and where we’re headed.”

“I’m concerned about why we are not attending”

During the citizens comments section of Tuesday’s BOE meeting, RCS parent Amy Jeffers urged administrators to look into data from other school systems “that shows it is safe to attend school for children.”

She asked what is different between RCS and other nearby school systems that have continued in-classroom instruction. She referenced a comment Stroder made to the Times News last month that RCS had “a few (COVID cases) here and there, but nothing significant”.

Jeffers: “If nothing is significant, I’m concerned about why we are not attending like every other functioning county surrounding us.”

Jeffers also asked RCS to investigate student achievement under virtual learning, as well as how well students are being cared for whose parents work and they’re left home alone all day. She also expressed concern for special needs children who need hands-on learning.

“My son is a 7th-grader and he might have gone to school 6-12 times since April,” Jeffers said. “I’m a very concerned parent about that and my child’s education ... and also his social ability to be able to go to school and interact with peers, have that group interaction, have that personal feedback from teachers. There is a lot he is missing out on, and every other student too.”

“Please always do what is best for our children”

Mandy Kenner whose son is an eighth-grade RCS student, said she understands if a school has to be closed because there aren’t enough available adults to monitor students. Hawkins County Schools, where Kenner is employed as nutrition supervisor, has closed schools individually when quarantine numbers became too high.

“Remaining virtual because there is a desire not to change schedules is, in my opinion, unacceptable and an injustice to our students,” Kenner said. “It appears that the COVID-19 data currently being used by RCS is community Epi-curve data that is published by the Tennessee Department of Health. While that is very important information, I feel it should be used in conjunction with other data points such as district-level data as recommended by the TDOE soon after the fall semester began.”

Kenner added, “Using multiple data points, and drilling down to appropriate demographic would seem to be more applicable than solely focusing on community data that includes positivity from testing at jails, long term (health) facilities and other demographic groups that do not directly affect students and staff in a school setting.”

Kenner also criticized using “expected data” such as suggesting a holiday is expected to create a spike in cases.”

“Please always do what is best for our children rather than placate those adults, whether they be parents or school staff, who may be fearful during this time,” Kenner told the BOE.

Not all parents oppose virtual classrooms

RCS parent Candace Mayes didn’t address the RCS BOE Tuesday, but she did tell the Times News Tuesday she is grateful to RCS for exercising “extreme caution with our children and the staff.”

“There are just as many parents, or more parents, who do agree with the virtual learning right now,” Mayes said. “You can’t make everyone happy. Thank you RCS for keeping the students, staff and all family members in thought and mind by keeping school closed.”

RCS parent Johnna Jerdon told the Times News that some parents are upset about virtual classrooms because “they use school as a babysitter”.

“People’s health and lives are more important then being in-person,” Jerdon said. “Virtual is better then nothing at all. As a mother of a kindergartner, I’m glad they are virtual. We have sick parents in our homes. I’m thankful City School is taking every safe step there is.”