Dickson, Springer schools resume in-person learning

Michael D. Smith
The Daily Ardmoreite

Two area school systems that closed classrooms because of high numbers of COVID-19 on campus have reopened after nearly two weeks. Students and teachers at public schools in Dickson and Springer returned on Tuesday as COVID-19 infections in Carter County continue to climb. 

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In Springer, the move to distance learning so early in the school year meant some of the youngest students weren’t quite prepared for navigating school-issued devices. Superintendent Cynthia Hunter said students still stayed engaged with teachers with online communication tools and traditional paper packets. 

“Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of students stayed up with their distance learning,” Hunter said on Friday. 

Dickson Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Colclasure said that engagement between teachers and students during distance learning is never as effective as in-person classes. The rural school district rarely relied on distance learning before the pandemic and Colclasure said that students and staff did not have to rely on it much last year. 

“Even though it’s been over a year with COVID, we’re still relatively new to the online and distance stuff, so we’re still working through that,” Colclasure said on Tuesday. 

The two school districts were among the first in Carter County to begin the academic year in August. Less than two weeks after the new school year started, Dickson schools announced a two-week move to distance learning due to a large number of staff testing positive for COVID-19. The following week, Springer announced the move to distance learning when more than one out of every three students was affected by the disease. 

Keeping students engaged with their teachers during distance learning was a priority for many educators, but keeping parents and guardians enaged with school officials was also important. Schools asked parents to report any positive COVID-19 tests among students during distance learning so officials could determine if Tuesday’s planned reopenings would be safe. 

Hunter and Colclasure both said they were pleased with the communication from parents about the health of students during distance learning. 

Both schools also offered meals to students during the closure. Hunter said 50 students from Springer were sent home with boxed meals along with Chromebooks and lesson packets, and Colclasure said even more Dickson students received breakfast and lunch despite the campus closures. 

“We did about 700 (meals) times five days – so that would be 3,500 – times two meals,” Colclasure said, estimating about 7,000 meals were provided to students over the two weeks. “We feel good about that, that’s something we always want to make sure our kids are getting the food that they need.” 

Carter County continues to see the number of COVID-19 cases climb, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Carter County reported 326 cases and three deaths in the latest week, compared to 189 cases and one death during the week before. Throughout the pandemic the county has reported 7,767 cases and 137 deaths.

As classes resume in Springer and Dickson, schools across the state have different quarantine rules compared to the previous school year. Colclasure said unlike last year when close contacts of someone testing positive for COVID-19 could be told to quarantine, only the person testing positive can be required to quarantine this year.  

But efforts to slow the spread on campus and keep classrooms open to students and teachers continue. Colclasure said sanitation efforts and social distancing are practiced as often as possible, and his school is still notifying families if a student comes in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. 

He hopes that parents and guardians will use that information to make safe decisions for everybody involved in education. 

“We’re just hopeful that we can stay in. That’s everybody’s goal,” Colclasure said.