With less than a week before Knox County Schools returns for its first try at in-classroom instruction since the pandemic shutdown in mid-March, there are still unanswered questions about how things will unfold.
Here are the latest updates on concerns and procedures for students, parents and staff.
Knox News wants to hear from parents, grandparents and caregivers. Whether you feel ready for the first day of school or you still have unanswered questions, email Isabel.Lohman@knoxnews.com.
Knox News will track positive COVID-19 cases in schools. If you receive a notification from your child’s school, please send an email to Isabel Lohman with the number of positive cases and additional info your child’s school provides. You can let Knox News know you want to help by filling out the Google Form below. We will not share your identity or personal information.
Chromebook distribution for virtual and in-person learners is being coordinated by individual schools. Administrators are dealing directly with families so if you have questions about the process, contact your school office directly.
All students will have a Chromebook laptop or tablet this year thanks to the district’s decision to use Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds to buy devices for every student. If a school closes, students will be expected to do virtual learning.
Contact tracing and positive COVID-19 cases
The district will work with the Knox County Health Department to contact trace if a case of COVID-19 is detected in the school system. Parents can expect details to come from the district later this week outlining what information they will receive when there is a COVID-19 case at their child’s school.
Knox County Health Department Director Martha Buchanan said Tuesday the county will track cases in schools the same way it tracks all other cases in the county. There will not be a separate list of cases in the county’s schools.
In contrast, districts across the state have taken other approaches.
Hamilton County Schools has a COVID-19 dashboard that lists counts of active cases, active close contacts and those awaiting test results. The website does not currently include student counts, but it says that data is coming soon.
At Maryville City Schools, those in close contact with an infected individual receive communication and everyone else in the school also receives a notice telling them if the case was a student or staff member, the grade level of the student and sometimes the specific class. For example, it’s easier to detect what class a first grader is in. In high school, that’s harder because students go to multiple classes.
Maryville City Schools’ Health Coordinator Heather Ledbetter said the district feels transparency is important.
Knox News will track COVID-19 cases in schools, and we need your help doing that. Please contact Isabel Lohman if you learn of a positive COVID-19 case at your school. You can email her at Isabel.Lohman@knoxnews.com or send her a text at 865-207-9279.
Students will need reliable internet service to complete school work, whether they’re virtual learners or in-person learners. If the school goes to “red,” that means every student will learn virtually for some period of time.
If you need help getting low-cost internet, you can call the district’s hotline at 865-594-4484. The hotline is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Masks are required and there is a policy for what consequences a student will face if they refuse to wear a mask. The first two consequences are verbal warnings, then the student faces other consequences.
Students are allowed to take their masks off at certain times like when they are eating or drinking. There are also exceptions for students who can not wear a mask for medical reasons.
Red zone designation
Knox County Schools outlined in its reopening plan five factors for determining if school will be in person: student attendance rate, teacher attendance rate, support staff attendance rate, substitute teacher fill rate and “consultation with the Knox County Health Department.”
While the district has shared those categories, it has not said what thresholds within the categories will trigger different ratings. District spokespeople have declined to say what exactly would lead to a school having to go “red,” prompting a shift to virtual learning.
“These include the schools metrics outlined in our reopening plan and community health metrics measured by the Health Department,” KCS spokeswoman Carly Harrington said. “There is an additional state metric related to new cases per 100,000 population and test positivity rate that we are also monitoring.”
Girls soccer and volleyball games started Monday, with schools requiring spectators to wear masks and distance themselves from others.
High school football games start Friday, and Knox County Schools has announced safety guidelines, from fan attendance to concession stands, for football games.
For example, stadiums will have one-third capacity and bleachers will have seating marked off.
The home team will be allowed to have its band at the stadium but the visiting team will not. All members of the band can participate as long as they can follow social distancing. They also will be seated away from spectators and will be required to wear masks when not playing.
All members of cheerleading teams for the home and away teams will be allowed to attend as long as the game is between two Knox County Schools.
The district said it will release student schedules beginning Wednesday afternoon.
For families that selected the virtual option, school starts Monday just like it does for in-person students.
Students will use district-issued Chromebooks and the programs Microsoft Teams and Canvas.
Some students will have classes that use Florida Virtual School, an online curriculum the district contracted with after experiencing teacher shortages. The district originally estimated the program would cost up to $1.5 million for the semester, but it now estimates it will cost $300,000 for the semester, based on a school board meeting agenda published Tuesday. The meeting will be streamed at knoxschools.org/kcstv.