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The Cumberland County Board of Education is asking Tennessee to suspend standardized testing this school year due to the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis.

The resolution addresses concerns about remote learning, which may be likely this school year, and the many learning plans counties have developed to address remote learning.

The state’s standardized testing program, TNReady, includes exams in English and language arts, math, social studies and science. The results are used for a portion of student grades, in teacher effectiveness scores, and school and district accountability measures. 

Students in grades 3-12 must take the annual assessments, though they were canceled last year due to early school closures. 

The resolution to be sent to the Tennessee General Assembly asks for a moratorium on state testing this year or, if tests are administered, that the results not be used in district rankings.

It cites the disparity in learning methods that will be utilized throughout the state and asks the focus be on “recoupment of students’ academic and social/emotional skills lost during the extended school closure.”

Stace Karge, 9th District representative, moved to approve the resolution, supported by Becky Hamby, 7th District representative. The motion was unanimously approved.

The board also passed a resolution to waive some policies due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“This authorizes boards of education to govern their respective districts, including adopting, revising and suspending local board policies,” explained Maxwell. “It also allows the board of education, in suspending those policies and provisions, to continue on seamlessly in the event that we do need to make a change for the betterment of our district for our students within these policy areas.”

The policies included in the resolution include:

•Policy 1.101, role of the board of education, conflicts related to the district calendar, safety plans and curriculum adoption

•Policy 1.4, school board meetings, conflicts in location and time of school board meetings

•Policy 1.8, school calendar, to address changes implemented due to COVID-19

•Policy 1.801, school day, altering the school day provided students receive a minimum 6.5 hours of instruction

•Policy 1.8011, emergency closings, allowing the director to close schools to address issues resulting from COVID-19

•Policy 3.206, community use of school facilities, as it conflicts with the continuous learning plan

•Policy 4.200, curriculum development, as it conflicts with the continuous learning plan

•Policy 4.209, alternative credit options, as it conflicts with the continuous learning plan

•Policy 6.2, attendance, as it conflicts with the continuous learning plan

•Policy 6.310, as it conflicts with the continuous learning plan

The resolution only becomes effective if the school system must implement all or a portion of the continuous learning plan. 

Jim Inman, 1st District representative, said he thought the resolution was a good idea, but said the board needed to consider changes to the attendance policy as it relates to allowing students in high school to skip their final exams. Students who have a certain grade in a class and a minimum number of absences are not required to take the exams, though they are required to take any state-mandated end-of-course exams.

“The kids have loved being exempt from final exams,” Inman said. “But what we do is encourage them to come to school while they’re sick.”

He said this could be a serious issue when flu season begins.

“[Students] may not have a temperature of 100.4 to keep them at home, but they’ve still got a low immune system from recovering from the flu or strep, and they end up with COVID or something worse,” Inman said. 

Tom Netherton, 6th District representative, said he didn’t think the resolution would end with the policies listed.

“I think what we’re saying is we’re taking this resolution, and we’re going to have to change some policies to meet the current situation, but when this is over and we don’t need that change anymore, we go back to our other policies, which I think are well written and well defined,” he said.

The board may waive a policy quickly, but changing a policy requires at least two successful readings by the board, which can take time.

“I think it needs to be a board decision. We need to discuss it,” he said. “But still, if the new policy comes up and we need to change it, we still go back to the old policy when its over.”

Stace Karge, 9th District representative, moved to approve the resolution, supported by Netherton. The motion was unanimously approved. 

In other business, the board approved:

•First reading of policy changes for policy 1.407, student district records, and policy 6.304, student discrimination, harassment, bullying, cyberbullying and intimidation to update legal references

•Second reading of policy 6.202, homeschool, outlining the process for notifying the school system of the intent to homeschool students and establishing guidelines for reporting attendance and taking required state tests

•agreement with Volunteer Behavioral Health to provide services to Martin Elementary students through the Project Basic program

•Volunteers at Cumberland County High School, Stone Elementary, North Cumberland Elementary and middle school athletics

•yearbook and portrait contract with SimplePix and Pleasant Hill Elementary

•acceptance of $1,250 grant from Volunteer Energy Cooperative’s VECustomers Share to install water bottle fills stations at CCHS

•acceptance of a $1,000 grant from VECustomers Share to upgrade the walking trail at Pleasant Hill Elementary

•Disposal of surplus equipment at Pleasant Hill Elementary, Stone Memorial High School, North Cumberland Elementary, career and technical education department, food service department and special education department. The surplus list for South Cumberland Elementary was removed from the agenda following a fire in a portable classroom used to store the items. 

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.

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