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Online school returns: Health Dept recommends change back to remote learning

Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times

 Just when staff and students were getting used to Carter County’s hybrid model again, the school system has gone back to an entirely online virtual school schedule at the recommendation of the Carter County Health Department. 

Carter County Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Ronnie Dotson, told the board on Monday night that beginning the next day (Tuesday) the system would be returning to the online model. He said he had let both parents and teachers know at the same time, and released the news “literally five minutes” after receiving the notice himself. He said he felt a responsibility to release the news as quickly as possible in case parents needed to make childcare arrangements. 

He said while he knew the school system would have some students and parents who would be “terribly disappointed” with the change – a feeling that had already been communicated to him – he said the district will, “have to trust that the health department is making decisions that will keep the community safe.” 

He said they would reevaluate the decision with the health department after two weeks of online instruction. 

Dotson also said the district would continue to look at restarting small group instruction while following all guidelines necessary to keep students safe.

This news came as the school district was holding their first in-person meeting, rather than an online meeting, in several months. 

The meeting, held at Carter City Elementary, was used as an opportunity to once again congratulate the school on their achievement in being recognized as an Exemplary High Performing National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. 

Dotson told the staff and principal Jo Ashworth that while celebration of the recognition had been “kind of lost in the pandemic,” he wanted the school to know that the district “recognizes the excellence.” 

Dotson presented Ashworth with certificates for the staff and told her that the district would be distributing lapel pins later this week when they arrived. The lapel pins are distributed by the Department of Education and are only available to school staff who have been identified as part of a Blue Ribbon School. 

He told Ashworth the district was “thankful you are here leading this school,” and said that even if it was “a year after the fact” once the pandemic would allow they want to have a large celebration of the recognition with the community invited to attend. 

“I want the community to realize the pride they should have (in the school),” he said. 

He said he had recently talked to realtors who said Carter County was getting noticed by home buyers who are moving into the county specifically because of the school system. In addition to Carter City Elementary, Star Elementary has been recognized as a Blue Ribbon School, and both East and West Carter High School have received state recognition for academic achievements. 

The district also heard a presentation on “Whole Child” initiatives, which focus on school nutrition as a part of the program. While things have been different this year, with the district allowed to follow guidelines normally reserved for summer feeding programs, they have still been above the national average for “smart snacks” and school nutrition in general. 

The school is now delivering five breakfast and lunch meals at a time to students via school bus to make sure all students are able to have at least those two balanced meals a day. So far this year they have delivered over 105,000 lunches and breakfasts by school bus. The district wished to express their thanks to the bus staff for help in distributing the meals and kitchen staff “who became our essential workers” this year. 

Though the Monday night meeting was held in-person at a remote site, with re-elected board members Rachel Fankell and Lisa Ramey-Easterling sworn in alongside newly elected board member Patrick Ferry prior to the meeting, the remainder of the school board meetings for this school year will take place at the school district’s central office in Grayson. Using the board office for meetings is expected to continue at least until school resumes for the next school year in the fall. 

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com

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