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As COVID-19 cases rise, more East Tennessee students are learning virtually

Thousands of East Tennessee students are currently in quarantine or isolation. Some districts are adding virtual learning days to help slow the spread.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — For the past few weeks, COVID-19 cases have been rising steadily in East Tennessee. Now, schools are feeling the impacts.

Jefferson County Schools announced additional district-wide distance learning days "due to increases in COVID-19 cases."

All students will learn remotely from Nov. 18 to Nov. 24 to help slow the spread. As of last Monday, the director of schools told 10News there are nine active cases among students and nine among staff members. In total, an additional 138 people had recovered.

Parent Chelsea Elmore said she appreciated finding out about the switch in advance.

"They are trying to give us parents time make plans," she said on Monday. "We were warned ahead of time to try and make extra plans should something like this happen, however, some families do not have that option."

Parent Kori Keller said she too was just rolling with the punches.

"I wasn't stressed, but it was, 'Let me figure out what I need to do,'" she said. "Both the babysitters [I use] have kids who are in school and they have virtual learning days too so they both understand."

On Monday, Claiborne County Director of Schools Dr. Linda Keck told 10News they had 15 staff members and 11 students out sick with COVID-19.

She said some classes were combined in the gymnasium because there were not enough substitutes, though they maintained social distance and worked on assignments.

Beginning Tuesday, Dr. Keck said all schools would transition to the continuous learning plan after Thanksgiving.

In Scott County, students will transition to virtual learning Wednesday through Friday due to "increased issues with COVID-19." The district opted to extend Thanksgiving break instead of having students learn virtually on Monday and Tuesday as well.

In Grainger County, all Rutledge Middle School students are learning virtually through Thanksgiving, though faculty and staff are reporting to the school as normal.

In Maryville, all high school freshmen will be learning virtually until Thanksgiving.

RELATED: KCS receives more than 6,600 requests to switch learning options for spring semester

In the Oak Ridge Schools, middle school students enrolled in face-to-face instruction are moving back to an alternating schedule.

"Due to the increase in the number of students being quarantined, it is our plan to transition back to the alternating A/B schedule," Superintendent Dr. Bruce Borchers said in a letter on Thursday. "It is our intent to stay with this alternating A/B schedule until mid-January when we will reassess this decision."

Oak Ridge Schools is currently reporting 37 active cases among students and staff. Another 48 have had the virus and recovered, per data from the district.

In Knox County, more than 1,300 students and 168 staff members are currently in isolation or quarantine. Whittle Springs Middle is online through November 23, as well as pre-kindergarten students at Sam E. Hill Primary. Both Gibbs Elementary and Gibbs Middle will be online through November 30.

Districtwide, Knox County Schools said its substitute fill rate is less than 70% and that the custodial support staff absence and the vacancy rate were greater than 20%.

In Cumberland County, the district is moving into the "yellow" zone for the second time this school year.

"Moving to yellow means that there will be less hallway transitions, fewer students in the cafeteria with more meals brought to classrooms, special area classes taking place in classrooms for younger grades, and other precautions," the district told families on Friday. "Thorough cleaning and disinfecting of buildings and buses, along with temperature checks, facial coverings, frequent handwashing, social distancing when possible, and many other precautions will continue."

As of Nov. 13, Cumberland County had 30 active cases of COVID-19 among students and 13 among staff. Nearly 1 in 15 people in the district — 499 total — were in isolation or quarantine.