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Sullivan County school board votes to continue virtual learning through Aug. 21
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Sullivan County Board of Education

Sullivan County school board votes to continue virtual learning through Aug. 21

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In a called virtual meeting that lasted close to three and a half hours, drew close to 300 viewers despite being on a Friday night, and was repeatedly slowed down by sound glitches that obscured chunks of their discussion, the Sullivan County Board of Education voted to keep county schools on a virtual learning schedule through Aug. 21.

The school board agreed to revisit that plan next Thursday evening, during a regular monthly meeting already on the calendar, and said it will plan to make that meeting open for public comment so that parents, teachers and community members can weigh in.

The plan the board agreed on would have Sullivan County’s schools open on Aug. 24, either in a hybrid (part virtual, part in-person) format or fully in person.

The board members exhaustively combed through all of the risks their decisions could pose: the risk of infecting more people with COVID-19 in an area that’s currently a hotspot if they approved full or even partial reopening; the risk of reopening and then having to shut back down due to positive cases of the respiratory illness; the risk of county students, especially the youngest and the poorest, falling significantly and harmfully behind in their education if school stays virtual; the risk of child abuse for students who aren’t safe at home; and the risk of parents losing jobs to stay home and work with their children.

They all agreed, amid sharp differences on how to proceed, that every choice before them carried significant risks.

The vote to continue virtual learning through Aug. 21 passed narrowly, 4 yes votes against 3 nos.

David Cox, the school system’s director, said that in his decades of education work, he’d “never been faced with a challenge quite like this.”

The board also widely agreed with member Mark Ireson when he stressed that the public should have a chance to weigh in on their decision making at next week’s meeting.

“I think if we’re going to say we’re going to go ... to some kind of hybrid [model], it’s pretty bad if we’re not going to allow people to come talk to us,” Ireson said. “My phone’s been blowing up during this meeting.”

The board said it would move forward with the plan to make the Aug. 13 meeting public and look for a suitable way to set that up safely amid the ongoing pandemic.

swade@bristolnews.com | 276-645-2511 | Twitter: @swadely

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