The Bedford County Board of Education met Tuesday evening in a special called study session to discuss proposed rezoning for elementary grades and certain school board policies.
The session was tentatively scheduled at the end of the March board meeting, with the board notifying the Times-Gazette by email on March 23. A meeting announcement was not made on the county website or by paid advertisement.
A number of policies were discussed in the four-hour study session attended by Dr. Ray Butrum, superintendent, and members of the board with the exception of Leonard Singleton.
Those discussions will be detailed this week in the T-G. In all cases, no official action was taken by the board, but the recommended changes to many of the policies will become agenda items for a board vote at the next regular meeting on April 19.
Consideration was given to a policy regarding home schooling. According to board secretary Suzanne Alexander, no formal policy had previously existed. The sample policy language presented to the board was suggested by the Tennessee School Boards Association.
The two-page policy outlines several requirements, including that parents notify the board of education before each school year of their intent to home-school, that attendance records are maintained, that parents provide four hours a day of instruction, and they must have a GED or high school diploma in order to conduct classes.
Attendance records are to be inspected twice a year, and the policy provides a specific course of action for students who fall behind their grade level.
When asked, Butrum did not know off-hand the number of students who are registered as home school students in Bedford County, "My guess is that a huge number probably went to virtual school in Union County," said Butrum.
In May 2011, the Tennessee General Assembly passed the Virtual Public Schools Act, which gives authority to public school systems to establish online schools and allows students to complete all of their primary and secondary education online.
The act also allows private companies to contract with school systems to provide the online classes.
Most notable of these is Union County public schools, which contracted with Virginia-based for-profit firm K12 Inc. to provide a family-friendly learning platform. Officials there estimate 1,100 students signed up to take online classes after the academy launched late last year.
Key in the discussion of home schooling and virtual schools is the funding provided to schools by the state's Basic Education Program.
The funding formula through which state education dollars are generated and distributed to Tennessee schools provides at least $5,387 -- the state's per-pupil spending -- to each student Union County attracts.
Butrum authorized more than 50 requests from students at the beginning of the school year who wished to attend the system in eastern Tennessee.
According to Butrum, those names were researched by the reporting supervisor, Terise Rhodes. "She couldn't find half of them in our system, so we deduced that they were [previously] home school students."
"We want to offer our own virtual school here, we have the technology, we have the curriculum, we have the [funding] that's going to pay for writing the rest of the curricula this summer," Butrum said.
Board members expressed concerns about students missing out on the discipline that a structured school day provides..
"If a student is staying home, why are they staying home?" asked Glen Forsee. "There's got to be a compelling reason for them to be a virtual student, not just their convenience and [that] they want to sleep late or whatever."
"But once we offer virtual school, they have that right," responded Butrum.
Board member Amy Martin compared the virtual student to the traditional one.
"If Johnny decides he doesn't want to get up until 11 a.m. and do [his] work whenever or [he] may do it Saturday, then the regular student is getting up and meeting all the rules and regulations of the day-to-day classroom."
"It's new and it is uncomfortable, but it is the way of the future," offered Chad Graham. "[That] is not the world we live in anymore. If that kid is up at 10 at night doing his work, that's non-traditional, agreed, but he is putting in the effort and the work."
Butrum agreed, "If we fight it at all, we lose [BEP] money, we lose students. But when they can go 30 minutes down the road to a program that has this set up already, they are going to."
The discussion of virtual schooling also touched on the eligibility of virtual students to take part in a school's extra-curricular activities, including sports.
"That's all being piloted," said Butrum of other virtual schools. "We are watching very closely."
Coming up, proposed changes to:
Tuesday: Student attendance
Wednesday: Nepotism in hiring
Thursday: Lice procedures revised
Friday: Policy concerns