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As parents complain of rushed decision, KCS defends April virtual choice deadline

Parents have until April 23 to decide whether to send their kids back to school virtually or in person for all of the 2021-2022 school year

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Like thousands of other Knox County parents, Lee Forgety faces a fast-approaching deadline to decide whether to send his daughter Emma to school in person or keep her virtual for all of the 2021-2022 school year—and he's not happy about it.

Knox County Schools announced Friday it would require parents to lock in a choice by April 23 for the upcoming year. Forgety is among those who say the deadline and duration of the decision isn't fair. 

"For us to make a decision on that many unknown variables that affect us for the next year is a lot to ask," he said. "We are having to make this decision based off incomplete data." 

His seven year-old daughter has done well with the virtual option, but would prefer to be back in the classroom. Forgety said he'd like her there too, but is apprehensive because the district has not outlined its coronavirus safety protocols for the next school year. 

The Board of Education is scheduled to discuss the district's current mask mandate at a workshop next week. 

"For us to make a commitment over the next 13 months without having any idea of what it’s going to look like, I don’t know how that’s really completely fair to the students or the parents trying to make that decision because we’re really running blind," Forgety said. 

District Superintendent Bob Thomas said the district needs parents to decide early so it can hire the correct amount of virtual teachers and develop schedules. 

"Folks who have been in the virtual learning program know what to expect now I think," Thomas said. "I just think the earlier we can get started the smoother the opening is going to be for school next fall."

He said changing schedules mid-year, as the district did this school year, creates a "nightmare" for staff. Though he added individual families could file appeals to administrators asking to change learning options mid-semester. 

Thomas said he hopes the school board follows CDC guidelines and keeps the mask mandate in place, but said he expected people to still be allowed to wear a face mask even if it is not required. 

"As things change, procedures may need to change as well," he said. 

However virtual learning options may not change anytime soon, Thomas said. He said he expected Knox County may continue to offer a virtual learning option even after the pandemic is over.