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Knox County Schools Superintendent speaks on reopening plans

Knox County Schools released its reopening plans this week, including in-person and virtual learning options.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Knox County Schools released its reopening plans on Wednesday, and parents have one week to decide whether they want their children to learn from home to go back to school.

The plan also outlined how the district would respond if a student, teacher or staff member got sick. It delayed the start of school for students until Aug. 17, to give teachers and principals more time to prepare.

People will also be required to wear masks in schools and they will be cleaned more often, according to the plan.

Superintendent Bob Tomas said the district invested around $800,000 in handwashing supplies, disinfectants, masks and other cleaning supplies. He also said he expects the district to spend more on them as the year goes on, and that schools will provide masks; he said the district ordered 45,000 for students.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Knox County is continuing to rise. On Friday, the health department reported 1,100 active cases in the county.

"We have regular conversations with our health department about it and will seek their advice and their counsel as we go through this," Thomas said.

He also said that the Board of Education is open to changing the reopening plan as the COVID-19 pandemic develops. Registration forms for Chromebooks to be distributed as part of the district’s 1:1 plan were available Friday, in case the district needs to transition to full-online learning.

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The district ordered around 40,000 computers, although they are not scheduled to be delivered at the same time. Thomas said he hopes to have them all by mid-August.

“The thing we cannot do is not be ready if we go online,” he said.

Thomas said online learning will not just sit students in front of a computer for 6 hours and 30 minutes every day. Instead, he said there will be a mix of activities.

Students who enroll in online learning will also be able to stay in extracurricular activities, Thomas said. He said a part of student success in school is participating in extracurriculars.

Thomas said that the district will have counselors available to help meet the social and emotional needs of students in online programs.

"They are our children," he said. "We want the best for all 60,000 of them."

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