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More Tennessee school districts are asking for permission to learn virtually

During the 2021-22 school year, districts have filed more than 115 waivers for virtual learning. Roughly two-thirds are from January alone.

MARYVILLE, Tenn. — Across Tennessee, school districts are struggling to stay open with the rising number of COVID-19 cases.

From January 16 to 22, districts filed at least 41 waivers for remote learning. That's up from 20 the week before.

"We've had an interesting time since coming back from Christmas break," said Maryville Director of Schools Dr. Mike Winstead. "We had snow initially that first week back and then the second week we were dealing with a lot of staff and student absences."

Maryville City Schools decided to apply for virtual learning waivers for its junior and senior high school students last week.

"You can't match what happens during the day in-person, but you can try to have have some productivity there," Winstead said. "We wanted as many kids in-person for as many days as possible, especially the younger kids."

He said that's why the district chose to send the older students home.

"That allows us to really concentrate our resources on those younger grades," Winstead said. "Our substitute teachers, cafeteria workers just moved everything into the lower grades to keep them open last week."

It's a similar approach to what Knox County Schools is doing this week.

"As we identify schools that may fit that category of being able to go virtual, we'll submit a waiver to to the commissioner," Supt. Bob Thomas said. "It takes the adults being in school to have school."

In a waiver submitted to the Tennessee Department of Education, KCS said roughly a third of the Austin-East Magnet High School teachers were going to be out this week.

Roughly 85 percent of those positions would have been unfilled, the district said. TDOE approved the waiver for A-E to learn remotely.

In Maryville, schools closed on Monday because the virtual waiver had expired. However, Dr. Winstead anticipated opening every school in-person come Tuesday.

"So far the reports look good," he said. "I've been told there's a light at the end of this tunnel and I'm still looking for it, but I'm hoping we find it."