Blount County Schools families should wait to make travel plans for holidays on the current calendar for 2020-21.

The district’s Calendar Committee is recommending changes that would have students in class on four days they currently are scheduled to be off. The goal is to offer as much instruction as possible early on, before the traditional time for state testing in mid-April, in case the pandemic disrupts learning.

On Monday, June 29, the committee voted to make Sept. 8, Oct. 12, Nov. 11 and March 22 instructional days. The Board of Education is expected to consider the change at its next meeting, July 30 — the day after BCS students return to class.

Students still would be off on Labor Day, Sept. 7, and have a full week for fall break, Oct. 5-9.

Veterans Day, Nov. 11, would become a day for virtual learning, with students at home instead of on campus that Wednesday.

Spring break also would remain a full week, March 15-19, 2021, but students would be expected to be back in class the following Monday, March 22.

If nothing else affected the calendar, that would move the last full day for students to May 14, with a half-day May 17.

The BCS calendar already is built with some cushion. State requirements are based on 6½ hours of instruction, but Blount County’s school days are 7 hours.

That means in 180 days it has at least 13 extra to use for closings such as inclement weather. Three of those days — Oct. 12, March 22 and May 19 — were planned as professional development days for staff.

If the school board adopts the changes, that will take Blount County down to five professional development days, the number the state requires.

Committee members recognized that families already may have made plans but noted the schools have been emphasizing that their plans may be subject to change because of the pandemic.

Mark Dowlen, principal of Eagleton Middle School, also noted that many colleges have altered their fall schedules, eliminating the traditional break and scheduling classes on Labor Day, with the goal of sending students home before Thanksgiving.

During a traditional U.S. flu season, cases spike between December and March, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Blount County Schools also traditionally loses some days to inclement weather early in the calendar year.

During discussion about the possibility of using fall break for instruction, Amanda Vance, who is transitioning from special education to elementary supervisor, said those days could be used for remediation and enrichment for some students.

Committee members wanted to test virtual instruction early on but also noted the importance of in-person learning.

“We may end up needing to change a lot of our days into virtual days,” said David Murrell, BCS assistant director of operations.

The state Department of Education is telling school districts to prepare for the possibility of long-term closures because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It may be at that point breaks are all on the table,” Murrell said.

While the Calendar Committee usually meets only once or twice a year, it still may have more work ahead.

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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