Breaking News
More () »

Back to School: Jefferson County preparing for fall with temperature checks, virtual option

When school starts on Aug. 3, the district says safety will be its top priority. Students can expect daily temperature checks and changes in the building.

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Tenn. — When school is in session, students often move in groups from place to place.

"We all get on a bus, we go to school, we all go to the gym, we go to class," Jefferson County Director of Schools, Dr. Shane Johnston, said. "We kind of function on the mentality of groups."

But now, health leaders are encouraging the opposite: stay 6 feet apart whenever possible and avoid group settings.

That's just one challenge schools across East Tennessee are planning for.

"It's major modifications," Dr. Johnston said. "We're not isolated in that. Every school district in the state and nation is facing that."

One particular area he's concerned about is transportation. 

"We're planning on running the buses, but socially distancing on a bus cannot be guaranteed," he said. "Our buses are generally full."

They're going to try blocking off rows and spacing students as much as they can, but it likely won't be 6 feet.

The Jefferson County Schools Transportation Department found that it would only be able to fit around 18 students on a 90 passenger bus if those guidelines were followed. 

RELATED: Getting you back to school: Your school district's plans for the fall

"There's no way with what resources we have in buses or drivers that we could send three buses [instead of one]," Dr. Johnston said. "To send that bus out to pick up some of the kids and come back and drop them off and then go back, we would have kids arriving well past the start of school." 

Enforcing masks is difficult, too. While the district is adding them to its official school supply lists, they will be optional.

"In an elementary school, keeping a 7-year-old in a mask all day could be pretty tough," Dr. Johnston said. "But again, we're gonna lean heavily on the health department."

If the Tennessee Department of Health or Tennessee Department of Education mandates masks, they'll comply. In the meantime, they said they will be stepping up other safety measures.

Credit: WBIR
The Jefferson County School District is working to provide WiFi access in all of its school parking lots.

RELATED: "We are reinventing school" | Hamblen County preparing for in-person and virtual instruction

"When students arrive on campus ... we're taking everybody's temperature," Dr. Johnston said. "Anybody that's above 100.4 degrees is going to be referred to the nurse's office immediately."

All teachers and staff are expected to self-check their temperatures before arriving at campus each day. Other possible changes include having teachers move from classroom to classroom instead of students moving between classrooms, to limit exposure.

To help spread students out in the lunchroom, some kids might eat in their classrooms. And high school students might take some classes online and others in-person.

"They may have three classes at the high school at home, but they're also enrolled in welding," Dr. Johnston said. "It's hard to do that virtually from home, so it could be that we set up schedules to where we can get those kids to come in to complete certain tasks."

RELATED: Schools rush to get technology for students

Anyone who is uncomfortable returning to the classroom can opt to take classes virtually. The district is working to increase WiFi access and provide more grade levels with devices for each student.

The district is also working on plans with local health officials on how to respond if someone tests positive for COVID-19. 

"Are we willing to send just one class home based on someone in that class? How are we going to handle appropriate positive test notifications?" he said. "What if that child was on a bus with 70 other people?"

Because of their improvements with virtual learning, he said their options could range from sending a single class home to sending an entire grade-level home, to sending a whole school home — all while continuing to learn virtually. 

He said that it's a policy that could stick around for future flu seasons, too. That way, the district won't need to shut down for an outbreak at a handful of schools. 

"By ramping up our virtual offerings, if we get in a position again, whether it's flu, or COVID, or anything else going forward, we should be at a better place," Dr. Johnston said. "We [could] say students are remaining at home, and we're all going virtual today."

You can find the full reopening plan, HERE.

RELATED: Resources to help with ACT test preparation

RELATED: Anderson County Schools to check temperatures every day