KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Students are headed back to school on Aug. 9, but Knox County Schools will not be implementing many of the COVID-19 restrictions they did last year. Specifically, this means:
- Masks will not be required - although they will be allowed
- Temperature checks will not be required for students, employees or visitors
- Contact tracing won’t be conducted
- Visitors will be allowed in schools
- Extracurricular activities and field trips will be allowed
As COVID-19 cases rapidly rise in East Tennessee, some parents said they are cautious about educators' relaxed approach. It’s starting to show as more parents enroll their kids in a virtual public school.
"It worries me, but we are looking forward to her going into school," said Lee Forgety, a parent of a student in Knox County Schools.
He said that his 8-year-old daughter is excited to get back to school in person. However, he also said that there aren’t many other options other than sending her back to the classroom.
Yet, another Knox County parent said sending students back to school hasn’t been easy and that it can present more risks than it's worth.
"Our younger children, who are not yet vaccine eligible — we're going to homeschool at this point," said Eric Moore.
The decision to homeschool, he said, feels forced since parents had to decide whether to opt-out of virtual learning back in May — long before the number of COVID-19 cases started rising in East Tennessee.
Since then, the COVID-19 delta variant has spread across the U.S. prompting a response from health officials. The CDC recommended people in East Tennessee return to wearing masks, regardless of whether they were vaccinated.
"We didn't have a lot of other options," said Moore. "We feel like the position where we are right now, and that all Knox County parents are in, is to either take a chance with their children's health or homeschool because the virtual school option has largely been removed with very few exceptions."
Now that COVID-19 cases are spiking, many parents said they are having second thoughts about in-person learning.
"Pulling my kids out of the public school system here in Knox County would be a very difficult decision to make, but if the numbers keep rising and there are not the safety protocols and we can’t go back and try to pull her home, we will do what we have to in order to make sure that she's safe," said Forgety.
Educators said it’s too late to switch to virtual learning, which could mean that parents who don’t feel comfortable sending their kids to in-person learning may have to leave the district if they want to learn from home.
There are other virtual public-school options, though. According to officials, the number of students enrolled in Tennessee Connections Academy is growing rapidly. It is a virtual public school, allowing students to learn from home.
The virtual public school doubled to more than 3,000 students last year and that number continues to increase.
"We're continuing to enroll, and our numbers continue to increase every day," said Derek Sanborn, the executive director of TCA. "What it comes down to in Tennessee is parent choice, and I really encourage parents to make the best choice for their kids.”
The virtual public school starts Wednesday, but Sanborn said if you are interested in enrolling your student, they are accepting new students through mid-September. To learn more about Tennessee Connections Academy, click here.