Starting Monday, Jan. 11, Blount County Schools students who have opted for learning at home are going to have to show their work or return to campus.

Previously the attendance policy covering about 1,600 students still in full-time virtual learning this semester required them to fill out Google Forms on Mondays and Fridays.

The Blount County Board of Education approved a new policy Thursday, Jan. 7, that also requires them to “submit classwork according to the requirements specific to each class.”

“Over this last semester we have learned that there are some students who are completing the form but they are not participating in any virtual activities whatsoever,” Jake Jones, assistant director of curriculum and instruction, told the board. They aren’t participating in Google Meet sessions, watching teacher videos or submitting any work.

“Teachers are working very hard to prepare instruction, they are working very hard to communicate with parents and students, as a matter of fact they are wearing themselves out trying to reach a group of students who are just not participating,” Jones said.

Those who fail to turn in assignments and engage in online learning will be told to return to learning on campus and could be referred to the BCS Truancy Board.

“If they’re not going to participate fully in virtual learning, they need to be back in the building to receive an education,” Jones said.

Bus stop

In other action, the school board declined a request by parents Melissa Dunlap and Christopher Damico to reimburse them for the cost of driving their children to school.

The families live in the gated Saddle Ridge community off East Millers Cove Road in Walland, and Transportation Coordinator Kevin Wilner explained that school bus insurance would not cover travel on the private road into the development.

BCS says is isn’t safe for the bus to turn around at the Saddle Ridge entrance because of “the blind nature of the road at that point, plus steep dropoffs on the side of the road and entrance, as well as previous bus accidents at or near that location,” according to background provided to school board members.

The morning bus now turns around at Loop Road, about 1.6 miles from the entrance to the Saddle Ridge, and the afternoon bus at the Forestry Service turnaround 0.7 miles from the entrance, which is about 2.2 miles from the Dunlap home.

East Millers Cove Road “is very narrow and twisty, and has become heavily traveled by big trucks due to Blackberry, so there are very few safe spots for the bus to pick up kids and/or turnaround,” Wilner explained in an email answer to The Daily Times before the meeting.

The families were requesting reimbursement for driving their children to Heritage Middle School, which would equal about $3.35 a day, according to BCS.

State law allows but does not require schools to reimburse parents for transportation, and the board’s attorney advised that it would set a precedent by approving the reimbursement this time, making it difficult to turn down others later.

Budget timeline

The school board also agreed to delay until March voting on a memorandum of understanding with the Blount County Education Association.

In previous school years the board has voted as early as December on the MOU, which includes agreement on raises if funds are available.

“In December we have absolutely no clue what kind of funds we’re going to have available,” board member Debbie Sudhoff said in making the motion.

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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