Three Shelby County school districts apply for remote learning waiver

Published: Sep. 14, 2021 at 5:17 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Nearly two dozen schools across Tennessee have moved to temporary remote learning since school started last month.

While hybrid models, including remote learning, are prohibited in Tennessee, the Tennessee Department of Education has allowed districts to apply for temporary remote learning if COVID-19 has interrupted effective in-person instruction.

The Tennessee Department of Education announced waivers to the rule prohibiting hybrid learning two weeks ago. Since then, 18 school districts have applied for the waiver in 25 schools.

In Shelby County, Journey Hanley Community Schools, Arrow Academy of Excellence (AAE), and Gestalt Community Schools have applied for the waiver.

Families and school districts quickly saw the effects of COVID-19 as students went back to class in early August. Thousands of students have caught the virus or went into quarantine within days and weeks of class starting.

The Tennessee Department of Health reports more than 29,000 children between five years old and 18 years old have caught COVID-19 in the last two weeks.

In response, the Tennessee Department of Education allowed districts to apply for waivers to the state rule prohibiting hybrid learning, like remote schooling.

Nearly all those districts that applied have been approved. Overton County Schools’ application for remote learning in three schools was not approved and Rutherford County Schools was denied in one school.

“Any kind of instruction or other strategy to keep kids learning when they’re out of school for a little bit is really important,” said Dr. Toni Whitaker, a pediatrician at LeBonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis.

Journey Hanley Community Schools applied for the waiver at Journey Hanley School in Orange Mound after it said the schools’ entire administrative staff either tested positive for COVID-19 or was under quarantine. In the application, district leaders said the school couldn’t run properly without an administrative team.

Arrow Academy of Excellence in Orange Mound applied for the waiver in its first and fifth-grade classrooms after 100 percent of staff and students were under quarantine.

Gestalt Community Schools applied for the waiver for Power Center Academy Southeast when 85 percent of teachers and staff and 75 percent of students were in quarantine.

Journey Hanley was approved with conditions and so was AAE’s fifth-grade class. AAE’s first grade and Power Center Academy Southeast were approved fully for the waivers.

In the response from the Tennessee Department of Education, it said Journey Hanley needed to see if other staff from the district could cover the administrative duties at the school before the request is fully approved. Representatives from the district told Action News 5 that was possible, so they did not need to close the school.

As for AAE’s fifth-grade class, the Department of Education said:

“A student in the 5th grade classroom tested positive and exposed classmates and the teacher, who now need to quarantine. That being said, our understanding is that Shelby County Health has a universal mask mandate and the CDC recommends quarantine for those not wearing a mask when around an infected person. Can you clarify whether or not you are implementing the universal mask mandate in Shelby County, and if so, any additional information that may be helpful (even if it is just that the school is taking a more conservative position than the CDC on this issue).”

Whitaker said it’s best to be prepared at home for anything.

“What would we do if we have to change to some different strategy for learning? Do we have our books and supplies ready? Would you be able to do some of these things at home,” Whitaker said.

Action News 5 reached out to Gestalt Community Schools and Arrow Academy of Excellence for a comment, but we have not received one.

To read all the available applications for the Department of Education COVID-19 remote learning waiver, click here.

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