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Districts can apply for waivers that would allow select classrooms and schools to go virtual

Tennessee school districts can submit a waiver for specific classrooms or entire schools to offer virtual learning, but only for seven days, and it's not guaranteed.
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — After weeks of asking for virtual learning options, Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn is meeting parents in the middle with a short-term accommodation. New guidance from the Tennessee Department of Education will allow districts to apply for waivers that would allow some classrooms and even entire schools to go virtual, but it's not exactly what parents have been asking.

Tennessee school districts can submit a waiver for specific classrooms or entire schools to offer virtual learning, but only for seven days, and it's not guaranteed. Schwinn said she wants to "prioritize students in the classroom because it is the best way to learn." 

Schwinn said the waivers will temporarily relieve schools with high COVID outbreaks, but the goal is to keep students learning in the classrooms. So, the district must provide information showing there is not a reasonable way to maintain in-person instruction. 

"Really it's about saying, look we are at a point it is not possible to safely have students in the building and we have such a high quarantine or isolation population that we need to do something different and we do not have a more robust set of adults or support in our larger districts community to be deployed to help," Schwinn said.

Schwinn also explained that if an entire school is granted permission to go virtual for a week, all extracurricular activities will be canceled during that time. Shelby County Schools said this new outline will hardly impact schools because it has already been offering virtual options for classrooms with COVID outbreaks. Instead, this new outline mainly impacts smaller districts that were sending students home to quarantine without a virtual option. 

"To be clear, if a student is quarantined, a classroom is quarantined or a school is quarantined it is the expectation that those children are receiving the same amount of instructional hours as they otherwise would have. It is an instructional day, and it is remote learning. It is not a day off, it is not a closure," Schwinn explained.

Schwinn said an entire district cannot go virtual. As of Monday morning, Schwinn said only one district has submitted a waiver request. Shelby County Schools said they are still looking into ways to petition the Tennessee Department of Education and state legislators to allow a permanent virtual option for parents.

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