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TDOE relaxes graduation, testing requirements

It seems Covid-19 has affected every conceivable aspect of daily living. In Claiborne county, students are required to complete at least 90 percent of their regular school work while isolating at home. Seniors, who have eagerly awaited the culmination of 12 years of learning, will more than likely be required to forego proms and graduations – at least, for the short term.

The latest back-to-school date is April 24. That could very well change as new coronavirus cases are added to the list of those who have tested positive.

The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) has just adopted an emergency plan to address the issue. TDOE has approved the temporary freezing of grades for high school students and has lowered graduation requirements for seniors. The Department also addressed concerns for those student teachers who were unable to complete classroom time during the spring semester.

The rules will stay in effect for 180 days. However, some of the requirements could become permanent, depending on how the academic future unfolds.

The number of credit hours a student must earn to graduate has been lowered from its current 22 to 20 credits. Those credits must include 4 in math, 4 in English, 3 in science, 2 in social studies plus 7 additional credits dependent on student choice. ACT and SAT testing has been waived for Juniors and Seniors.

TNReady and end of course exams will not be taken this year.

High school students will get a break on final grades. The minimum grade a student can earn during this time will match or exceed the grade each student had earned by March 20. Any achievements made via remote learning can be used to improve students’ grades but cannot be used to lower them.

The school system is barred from recording unexcused absences or instances of truancy during this emergency period. Students will be given credit for normal attendance while learning online.

As for student teachers, they may still be recommended for licensure despite having been unable to complete their classroom hours. They will be given a practitioner’s license that will expire in August of 2021. This will allow them time to complete the certification exam.

Current teachers whose licenses are due to expire will be given the same amount of time in which to renew them. Final instructor evaluation scores for the 2019-20 school year has been dropped. Those evaluations that were already completed may be used for feedback purposes only.

TDOE has extended the timeline for initial evaluations of special education students. They will be given the same length of time as was spent at home under the governor’s order. School districts will be given an additional 30 days to complete these evaluations.

The regular April meeting of the Claiborne School Board was streamed live via FaceBook and was closed to the public. The only individuals present were a majority of the school board members along with the director of schools, safety officer Bob Oakes, administrative assistant Denise Howard and school system attorney Jim Estep III. Those present followed Tennessee governor Bill Lee’s recent order for social distancing by choosing seats at least 6 feet apart from one another.

During its brief meeting, the board approved a motion to rezone the area encapsulating the Cedar Grove Marina & Campground. Those students will now attend Midway, which is much closer to the Campground, rather than TNT and SMMS schools, which are inside the city limits of New Tazewell and Tazewell.

The school board was asked to consider the rezoning due to the extra time and expense incurred by the existing bus route.

“The Midway bus goes right by there and the other bus has to run extra distance and pick up no one,” said Dr. Linda Keck, director of schools.

School board member Terry Keck said the rezoning would affect about five students.

“They’re running the bus all the way through and bringing them back up to town. My concern was, in the area you want to rezone, would it be more kids than they can handle at Midway. Which, it’s not,” said Terry Keck.

Rock Harbor subdivision, which is located nearby the Campground, was mentioned during the discussion. It was determined that those students living in the subdivision currently attend Midway School.

In other action, Dr. Keck said she is looking at some options for holding prom at a later date.

“We do not want to forget our seniors. We want to make sure we recognize them and give them the best sendoff that we can,” said Keck.

She briefly touched on the subject of employee insurance. Apparently, the insurance company has decided to pay 100 percent of any healthcare bills that are generated by employees who test positive for Covid-19.

Later in the meeting, Dr. Keck spoke about the effects of the coronavirus.

“At this time, we’re fighting an invisible monster. We don’t need to fight with each other. We need to determine that this time is the time to stick together and work hard, and work smart to make sure we’re all pulling in the same direction.

“This is just like kindergarten. We’re going to stay together but we’re going to do it six feet apart,” said Keck.

As for the food distribution program, she said the practice will resume on April 16, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The previous week away from the now weekly distributions was spent cleaning and sanitizing the campuses, she said.

Seven days of food will be handed out each Thursday. Home deliveries can be scheduled by calling the school your child attends and giving that person your address and how many children are in the family, she added.

The board approved a motion to move future meetings to the Claiborne High School Library, until Covid-19 is under control. The next regular monthly meeting will occur at 6 p.m. on May 14.