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Two Knox County schools approved for virtual learning

Austin-East Magnet High School and Emerald Academy will move to virtual learning on Monday, after approval from the state Department of Education.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Two schools in Knox County have been approved to move to virtual learning starting Monday after classes were canceled for the entire week, according to a spokesperson for Knox County Schools. Illnesses and staff shortages led to the closures, according to educators.

Austin-East Magnet High School will move to virtual learning on Monday along with Emerald Academy. Austin-East students were approved to learn from home for the rest of the week, according to a spokesperson from KCS. A release was also sent to parents from Emerald Academy, a charter school that is not run by Knox County Schools.

In the release, Emerald Academy said attendance will be taken each day and will be mandatory. They also said virtual learning at the school may be necessary for other days, and next week as well.

Knox County Schools was not able to move to virtual learning for the past few days due to laws passed by the Tennessee Legislature, which requires school systems to ask for permission from the Tennessee Department of Education for individual schools, instead of switching to virtual learning across the district.

Earlier, KCS leaders said they anticipated individual schools would need to move to virtual learning in the coming weeks due to staffing challenges.

"KCS is closely monitoring absences at each of our schools and will be prepared to submit waiver applications to the Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner to allow virtual learning on a school-by-school basis," said Bob Thomas, the superintendent of KCS.

According to the waiver submitted for Austin-East for the week of Jan. 24-28, 30% of the staff and 26% of the students are in quarantine or isolation. 

"With 20-30% of staff absent and low sub fill rates, it creates a hardship on teachers and administration to provide class coverage, maintain effective sanitation protocols, and to provide quality and effective instruction," KCS said.

The waiver further explains that in the past two weeks, KCS has averaged 19-25 staff absences each day, with only 1 to 3 substitutes available to fill. The total enrollment is 674 students. The student absences averaged 150+ last week in school.

For Emerald Academy, Emerald Charter Schools informed that 32% of teachers, 20% of staff, and 26% of students are in quarantine or isolation. The waiver applies for the week of Jan. 24-28.

"In-person instruction is not feasible due to staff and student absences and the likelihood that continued in-person contact will only proliferate the staff and student illnesses for weeks to come during the current spike in COVID-positive cases throughout our community," Steve Diggs, president of Emerald Charter Schools, said in a letter. Virtual instruction would allow our staff to continue to deliver safe and appropriate educational opportunities to our students while preventing further spread of illness in our school."

Waivers are available for anyone to review online.

This evening (1.19.22), Superintendent Bob Thomas sent an update to families about district staffing challenges. The full update is also available on our website: bit.ly/3rB0Hm8.

Posted by Knox County Schools on Wednesday, January 19, 2022