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"We are reinventing school" | Hamblen County preparing for in-person and virtual instruction

Just 30 days before school starts, Hamblen County saw a record increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases. Around a tenth of the students will return virtually.

MORRISTOWN, Tenn. — When Morristown Mayor Gary Chesney looks at the rising case numbers, he said his first concern is the safety of his community. Then, he worries about schools.

"Educating kids is the most important thing a community does," Chesney said. "Children aren't the highest risk, but their teachers and the moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas they go home to are more affected."

He wrote a lengthy post on Facebook Wednesday morning asking his constituents to do their part: wear masks, practice social distancing and wash their hands.

"As a community, we need to help [the schools] be better prepared to safely open," Chesney said. "We cannot afford to miss the school year."

At the Hamblen County School District, Superintendent Dr. Jeff Perry has been working to make sure that doesn't happen.

"We have attempted to anticipate every issue," Perry said. "We are reinventing school right now."

This fall, students can choose to return to the classroom or do their lessons virtually. While the exact content will be adjusted by platform, Supt. Perry said they'll be learning the same things.

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"[Both groups are expected] to take those benchmark assessments so that we can determine if [they] have learned what we wanted [them] to learn," he said. "If [they] don't, then we'll create a remediation intervention plan to go in and help with the central skills that [they're] missing."

High school classes will be offered via the Schoology Learning Management System, while middle and elementary school students will learn via Google Classroom.

Right now, about 1,000 students in Hamblen County — or 10 percent of the student body — have enrolled in the virtual option. Students learning in-person can switch over at any time if they or their parents feel uncomfortable with the current public health situation.

Supt. Perry said they're also planning for a scenario in which public health guidelines require the district to move all students online.

"We do have a plan in place that every single family would have access to a computer," he said. "We also purchased 500 hot spots. We're working on a situation to where we can potentially activate our parking lots so that they become wireless stations." 

He said they're also looking at creating mobile hot spots in some of their high density and high poverty areas, like housing developments, to make sure all students have WiFi access.

"Our primary mission is, first of all, safety. Our second primary mission is to ensure that students are engaged in the learning process and that we have them be successful," Supt. Perry said. "It's incredibly important that we get students back into school, either online or in school."

The district will be holding mandatory training sessions this month for parents and students enrolled in virtual learning to ensure everyone understands how it works.

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