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Knox Co. Schools superintendent expects mostly normal school year

Superintendent Bob Thomas spoke after a fiery Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, emphasizing that masks will not be required as students return to class.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — After a tense and fiery meeting with Knox County Schools leaders, Superintendent Bob Thomas spoke with reporters about what families can expect from the upcoming school year.

He said the school year is expected to be mostly normal, with relaxed COVID-19 restrictions. Thomas said that he expects to have a normal and full fall sports season, including a full football season.

"We're looking for a normal fall, as far as sports are concerned," said Thomas.

He also emphasized that masks will not be required as students return to school. He said that leaders are telling teachers they plan to start school with as few COVID-19 restrictions as possible. However, anyone who wants to wear a mask at school will have the option to.

He emphasized that wearing masks will be treated as a family decision, and staff will be able to choose to for themselves.

"As far as the Tennessee Department of Health is concerned, the recommendation is for masks," he said. "Certainly, any parent who wants their child, or any staff member, who wants to wear a mask — I certainly recommend that for them. However, it's not going to be mandated as it stands right now."

The CDC recently recommended all people wear masks in schools, regardless of their vaccination status. They also recommended all people in East Tennessee return to wearing masks, as they report high COVID-19 transmission rates in the area.

He also said that any students who experience bullying at schools, whether they are related to wearing a mask or not, should report incidents to administrators. He said bullying is not tolerated in KCS.

Thomas also said that KCS will also not conduct contact tracing for COVID-19 cases. Instead, it will be handled through the Knox County Health Department.

Parents who want to transfer their students to virtual schools instead of in-person will need to appeal their decision, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in East Tennessee. However, he emphasized that the deadline to decide whether students will attend a virtual school or go to class in person has passed.

"It will depend on the factors involved to determine whether we will make an exception," said Thomas.

He also said that he did not expect policy changes as more COVID-19 cases are reported in East Tennessee, and health leaders report higher transmission rates. If leaders decide to make significant changes, he said parents will receive an email and notifications from KCS.

"The situation could change. We know what it is today, and we've seen it change over the last few weeks," said Thomas. "So, we'll continue to monitor that and provide as safe an environment as we possibly can for our students and our staff."