Lenoir City Board of Education discussed Thursday the status of virtual learners and what is coming for next semester.

Jeanne Barker, director of schools, told the board educators are working to add learning resources for virtual students struggling to maintain grades. Barker said before fall break, some parents approached her with concerns about the rest of the semester.

“At the middle school, we gave them the opportunity to return,” Barker said. “Several students, 29 students and families, have asked to return back to face-to-face, full time, out of the virtual environment. Those have been worked into, incorporated into the current assignments for teachers at the middle school. … At the high school level, due to the fact that the courses are a little different, and they don’t mimic exactly what’s going on day to day, Mr. (Lenoir City High School Principal Chip) Orr has set up an opportunity for students to sign up and come in per class that they need additional help with.”

Lenoir City Intermediate/Middle School teachers have created a virtual learning curricula for classes they teach, which is why students were able to integrate into schools, Brandee Hoglund, principal, said. At Lenoir City High School, online courses are often structured differently than in-person and asynchronous, which would make the transition harder.

The window for parents to commit to the second semester, either online or in-person, is open until Nov. 13. As of Thursday’s workshop, 142 students have registered to be fully virtual next semester.

Starting the second semester virtual will require students to fulfill specific requirements, such as passing at least three of four online courses in the first semester. Students who cannot uphold this requirement will not be allowed to continue virtual learning, Barker said.

Chris Smallen, chief technology officer, said 50 percent of virtual students are at risk or currently failing. Across all three schools, 33 percent of virtual learners are failing. The students who don’t do any work at all make up the majority of failing students, Smallen said.

“The students that are at risk and failing, how have the in-person contacts affected that number of students? Are they getting better?” Matthew Coleman, board member, said.

Hoglund said bringing hybrid students back has already helped grades, but she’s still working with online learners.

“In fact, we had to bring (hybrid learners) back the three days before fall break, everyone that was failing, and get all of that work turned in, and that has helped tremendously,” she said. “Our virtual kids, we’re still working on that. It’s interesting to see those students that were failing, how many of those came back that were failing and how many continued to stay virtual that were failing. We didn’t have as many failing come back as we thought. That bothers me a little bit.”

Chip Orr, LCHS principal, said even if students fail multiple virtual courses this semester, the credit recovery course at LCHS will still be able to help.

The biggest issue has been students hiding failing grades and coursework from parents, Smallen said.

“It kind of boils down to students aren’t always forthcoming with their parents,” he said. “… That’s primarily it. The parents were saying, ‘I thought they were doing everything. I’m looking at them over there, and they look like they’re on their computer all day long.’ They’re on their computer, but they’re just not doing work.”

Planning the next semester will look similar to planning a new school year in the summer with classroom, teacher and schedule assignments. Barker said it’s important for parents to decide about next semester by Nov. 13.

“There’s a lot of work going on right now, which is why we feel like we need to stick to that window,” Barker said. “By Nov. 13, we need to have our parents committed to either going back to face to face or staying virtual so we can make that plan. I think that’s a piece a lot of people don’t understand. It’s not easy to just snap your fingers and make a last-minute decision about whether a student comes back to school or not. There’s a lot of planning that happens. That’s a lot of what happens during the summertime … and we just don’t have that luxury.”