School Board sign

Increasing COVID-19 cases and a mask mandate at Franklin County High School have led to more students shifting to virtual learning, according to Director of Schools Stanley Bean.

Bean updated the School Board Monday about the situation and said that 512 students have signed up for virtual learning in the system’s schools with 129 of them being new this semester.

However, he said that 45 opted to attend on-campus classes resulting in a net gain of 84 virtual students compared to last semester.

Bean said the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association is also requiring greater restrictions on those who attend athletic events, limiting admission to immediate family members and school system employees.

“People just can’t go to ballgames (at random),” he said.

 The board held a special meeting on Jan. 4 to deal with COVID-19 issues.

Rising COVID-19 numbers in the system, compounded by the recent death of North Lake Principal George Butler, prompted recommendations by some teachers and school officials to consider a system-wide mask mandate.

However, the School Board compromised by singling out Franklin County High School, which has had the highest COVID-19 numbers among the system’s 11 schools.

Following a recommendation from Director of Schools Stanley Bean, Board Member Chris Guess motioned that FCHS be under a mask mandate until March 11 and the school go to a transitional schedule where students will go to the campus on alternate days.

The mask mandate and the transitional schedule began Monday with students being divided into A and B groups with group A on campus Mondays and Thursdays and the B group attending on Tuesdays and Fridays.

The groups are alternating attending school on Wednesdays, and students will be given homework when they are away from campus.

The move is designed to reduce on-campus student numbers to create greater social distancing.

The county’s middle schools have continued with optional mask wearing but are developing a plan to go to the transitional schedule if need be if COVID numbers escalate.

The system’s elementary schools have reported lower COVID numbers and are remaining with optional mask wearing, and a strong focus on proper hygiene practices.

Guess said a system-wide mask mandate has its drawbacks because it would, in effect, be dictating health practices to students and ultimately their families, which he described as a “slippery slope” that would draw considerable opposition if it were adopted system-wide.

Guess’ motion was seconded by Board Member Lance Williams, and Board Members CleiJo Walker, Caycee Hanger Roberts, Christine Hopkins and Linda Jones also supported it in a 6-2 vote.

Board Members Sarah Marhevsky and Sara Liechty were in opposition, stating that the mask mandate should be system-wide.