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Knox County Schools releases fall reopening plan

Both in-person and online options are available, and masks will be required

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Knox County Schools will reopen on August 17, five days later than planned, with both an in-person and virtual learning options in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, and masks will be required.

The system released its back to school plan shortly before the school board meeting on Wednesday.

In the foreword of the plan Supt. Bob Thomas said the pandemic has affected all of our lives, but that officials are committed to getting back to school safely.

“At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge that school will look different this year, and as a district, we’ll need your patience, your understanding and your flexibility as we move forward,” he said.

Officials decided to delay the start of school until Aug. 17 to give teachers and principals more time to prepare. Teachers will report to work on Monday, Aug. 3.

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The system will use five inclement weather days to make up for the delayed start, but they will still have five days remaining to use in case of snow or other weather issues.

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There will be two options for enrollment in Knox County Schools this school year.

Parents can choose to send their students to school to learn in-person in the classroom, with safety measures in place.

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For families that aren’t comfortable with the in-person option, students can enroll in a virtual option so they can learn from home. If they enroll in the virtual option, they will be committed to it for the rest of the semester.

In-person learning

Knox County has developed a color-coded strategy to determine how each school day will go, depending on the attendance rate for teachers, students and support staff, the number of substitutes available, and consultation with the Knox Co. Health Dept.

  • Green: On-campus learning with standard operating protocols
  • Yellow: On-campus learning with increased COVID-19 safety protocols
  • Red: Virtual/remote learning only

If it’s a green day, school will continue with few changes. If the status is red, all students will be learning at home and will not attend school, though teachers may be required to report.

If there’s a yellow status, which will likely be the case for most days when school starts, there are numerous protocols in place, including masks and temperature checks for all students and staff as they arrive at school. Students with a temperature of 100.4 or higher will be isolated from others and their parents called to pick them up and teachers will go home.

Students and staff members must be fever free for 24 hours, without the use of medication, before they return to school. If they have a temperature and COVID-19 symptoms, they must remain home for 72 hours and meet the criteria to discontinue isolation and consult with a doctor before returning to school.

During the Knox County Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, officials said the plan allows for individual schools to operate in different statuses to accommodate their specific situations.

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There will be no field trips allowed in the first semester.

Here are the protocols for yellow days:

Buses: Bus drivers will have temperature checks before their shift starts. They will be required to wear masks at all time. Students will also be required to wear a mask on the bus and will be encouraged to sit with family groups. Physical distancing is encouraged where possible. All buses will be disinfected after every run.

Masks: While no masks will be required at the green level, face coverings will be required on yellow days. All staff and students will be required to wear masks while on campus when physical distancing isn’t possible, unless they have a medical condition that prevents them from wearing one. Face masks will be provided to anyone that needs one.

Classrooms/common areas: In classrooms, desks should be arranged to promote physical distancing of six feet if possible and seats may be assigned. Class sizes and schedule will vary by school depending on space and design. Assemblies and pep rallies won’t be allowed unless physical distancing can be maintained.

Recess: Playgrounds will be open during the school day but students should practice social distancing. Masks may be removed outside as long as students maintain physical distancing.

Athletics/Extracurricular activities: KCS will follow TSSAA guidelines for sports. At this time, girls volleyball, golf and cross country will continue in the fall. They are still awaiting decisions on football and basketball. All other activities should adhere to guidance from the Tennessee Pledge. Students who choose the virtual learning option will be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities.

Cafeteria: Employees will have temperature checks and be required to wear masks and single-use gloves during food preparation and service. Students will wear masks while in line but can remove them to eat. Food will be served in disposable containers and with plastic utensils. Physical distancing should be maintained whenever possible and students can eat in other areas of the school, as determined by the principal. Seating may be assigned. On red days when students don’t attend school, take away meals will be provided if possible.

Academics: Instruction will be provided in a traditional manner, adjusted for health and safety requirements. Grading, homework, testing and attendance will be largely similar to prior years.

Visitors: Visitors will be restricted to essential personnel and those with scheduled appointments that can’t be conducted virtually. All visitors must wear a mask and practice social distancing and may get their temperatures checked.

Virtual learning 

Students already enrolled at KCS will get an email telling them how to sign up for virtual learning via Aspen Family Portal. Enrollment will open at noon on July 15 and will close at 11:59 p.m. on July 22. If you aren’t already enrolled in school or do not have internet access, you can visit the student’s zoned school.

If students enroll in the online option, they will be committed to it for the entire semester.

“Unlike the emergency closure in the spring, this online opportunity will more closely align with the rigor of an on-campus classroom, including instruction on new material, graded assignments and testing,” according to the plan.

The virtual learning program will run through the student’s assigned school and be taught by a certified teacher. Not all course options will be available for at-home students because some class activities are just not feasible at home. However, each student will remain on track for progress to the next grade level or graduation.

In some cases, if the student’s base school can’t accommodate a request for a certain class, they may be assigned to a virtual class from another school.

Virtual learning program teachers will be available to students via multiple platforms, and state-required student-teacher ratios for each grade will be the same in both virtual and on-campus classrooms.

Each Knox County student has been equipped with a Chromebook so they can participate in virtual learning. The devices will have to be turned in at the end of the year. Families will receive a flyer beginning July 20 detailing options for internet access, including those for low-income households.

All virtual students will start the school day at 8 a.m. Kindergarten students will end their day at noon, while grades 1-5 will go until 2:30 p.m. and grades 6-12 will go until 3:30 p.m. Teachers will tell students what time they need to log in each day.

Here are the highlights of the virtual learning plan:

  • Class size will mirror that of the traditional classroom.
  • Classes will meet remotely through Microsoft Teams, and Canvas will be the digital backpack.
  • Aspen Family Portal will be the digital report card and communication tool for parents/guardians and teachers.
  • Students may need to come to the school at designated times (with physical distancing protocols) for state-required assessments (AimsWeb Plus, TNReady, etc.)
  • Instruction will be a blend of direct instruction, practice, inquiry, group meetings, small group, and whole-group support as dictated by the academic standards and the students’ learning needs.
  • Students will earn grades that will become part of their permanent academic history. For high school credit-bearing courses, grades will contribute to the formation of the students’ GPA.
  • Students enrolled in either the school’s virtual classes or the district’s QuEST Program remain enrolled in their assigned school and will be allowed to participate in after-school and extracurricular activities.

Students who are enrolled in virtual learning may receive meals through their assigned school. Families should contact the School Nutrition Dept. for information on picking up the meals.

Knox County will continue to support students with disabilities virtually, but each parent will be contacted individually about a plan.

KCS will also provide support to parents whose students are learning virtually, through training on technical support and how to help their children learn.

Teachers will make sure that students have access to the materials they need at home and provide access to recorded lessons and one-on-one assistance if needed.

Leanne Hawn, Executive Principal of Career Magnet Academy, was announced as the 7-12 grade principal for virtual learning with Chris Layton, Vice Principal at Jefferson Middle School, as the 7-12 grade assistant principal.

Jennifer Garrett, Principal of Dr. Paul L. Kelley Volunteer Academy, was announced as the K-6 principal for virtual learning with Zach Brewer, Assistant Principal at Mooreland Heights, as the K-6 assistant principal.

What if someone tests positive for COVID-19?

If the district is made aware that a student or staff member has tested positive for COVID-19, district officials will immediately notify local health officials and work with the KCHD to assist with contact tracing to determine who may have been exposed.

If the student or staff member is on campus, they will be isolated until they can be transported off campus. Parents will be notified if there’s a threat of exposure on campus.

KCS will work with the health department to determine if a school should be closed or only certain areas or classrooms could be closed, depending on the exposure. If a school is closed or students sent home because of exposure, they will join the virtual learning program and return to school when they meet the criteria.

Employees who must be quarantined due to COVID-19 at the direction of the Health Department, or a physician, may use 10 days of emergency sick leave pursuant to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

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Cleaning procedures

All school buildings will undergo daily sanitizing for high-touch areas such as doorknobs, handrails, and countertops using a COVID-certified disinfectant.

Common areas such as administrative areas, libraries, cafeterias, auditoriums, gymnasiums, and hallways will be misted with a COVID-certified disinfectant daily and classrooms will be misted at least every other day.

Restrooms will be monitored and disinfected multiple times each day.

Each classroom will be provided with hand sanitizer and disinfectant.

Buildings will also be disinfected either in part or in their entirety as may be necessary following a positive COVID diagnosis of a student or staff member. Custodial shifts and hours may be adjusted to support these requirements.

HVAC systems meet or exceed industry standards and are balanced, on average, to exchange the indoor air with fresh outside air about three times each hour, and they are never turned off. A preventative maintenance program ensures the units’ filters are regularly replaced and the units are serviced and cleaned.

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