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'It's too much' | Jefferson County parents share concerns and struggles with distance learning option

Parents of distance learners in Jefferson County shared the problems with the distance learning option outweigh the pros two weeks into the school year.

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Tenn. — In Jefferson County, parents are worried their children will fall behind in online learning, which is causing stress for everyone involved.

Over 23 percent of students district-wide are currently learning from home.

Parents with kids who are learning from home said there needs to be changes to make sure their kids get a fair shot at an education this year. They are upset with the way the district is handling the process.

"Parents are out there crying, you know kids are breaking down because of the stress we're all in, and that's not the mental health I wanted for my kid," Tonya Thompson, a concerned parent, said.

Thompson's son is a sixth grader at Jefferson Middle School in Jefferson City. For them, and many others, distance learning has been a nightmare.

"We're worried about them failing," Thompson urged. "Two weeks now we've been going through this."

She explained the laptop programs are out of date and the workload is extreme, causing her son to fall behind already.

"There was just too much work," Thompson admitted. "He's been on the computer you know anywhere from eight hours to 10 hours a night and we just can't keep up."

Thompson said she sits with him all day to help. She explained there is no virtual instruction, only words on the screen he's forced to try and comprehend. Once he gets one class assignment figured out, another assignment piles on top.

Other families echo those concerns through a Facebook group, they want answers and change to happen sooner rather than later. Many posted about struggles with the programs and not being able to log on to complete the assignments, resulting in zeros and late work.

Another parent, Jeff Brigman, posted in a comment: "Students accounts not showing work assigned to them, completed work not showing as completed on teachers end, laptops not syncing or updating, staff calling parents because of not having kids do work, and lots of contradicting info from staff when we talk to them.

The issues are MUCH bigger than a server issue. My son is now 3 1/2 weeks behind and rather than allowing him to get further behind he’s chosen to go back in person."

Thompson said her son already has "absences" that he should not have, because he was doing the work and the system lost it.

Teachers are doing more work than ever to provide for the students working at home. Many are answering questions, emails, texts and messages to try and fill in the gaps in their free time.

RELATED: Tracking COVID-19 in East Tennessee schools

Director of Schools, Dr. Shane Johnston, said the district is working to smooth out the rough start. 

"We try to tell folks again, we're a little better at in-person learning," Johnston smiled. "We've been doing that for a few hundred years now in the world and in-person and we're on day 17 of distance learning."

As a more rural school district, this is their first shake at online education. They're trying to remedy the workload now from every aspect and are presenting changes to the school board on Thursday.

"So we're not gonna continue to just say be patient, be patient, but we do think we are gonna be better than we are in week three," Johnston explained.

To try and help families, they set up hot spots at schools and completed the first district-wide distance learning day Friday for trial and error. Things didn't go as planned.

"Simply put, the servers crashed," Johnston explained. "We hate that happened, but at the same time, that was the purpose of that day."

The district said things will get better moving forward. Parents, students and teachers hope that's the truth.

"We wanna be heard and wanna know that we are supported," Thompson said.

Johnston encourages parents to reach out with concerns to remedy situations and give feedback. Parents in the Facebook group said it's an uphill battle to get a response.

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