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'Plans can change' | Knox County Schools monitoring COVID-19 benchmarks as virtual option deadline approaches

On Saturday, some teachers shared an letter encouraging families to choose virtual learning, if possible. The deadline is Wednesday, July 22.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — In just under a month, Knox County Schools plan to welcome their students back — both virtually and in-person, per the current plan.

The in-person option includes some increased safety measures like daily temperature checks and mandatory face coverings whenever social distancing is not possible.

The virtual option will be run through the student’s assigned school and be taught by a certified teacher. 

Because of COVID-19, neither option is ideal. On Saturday, a group of Knox County educators began circulating an open letter outlining their concerns about returning to school buildings this fall. 

Knox County Education Association President Tanya Coats told 10News she had been forwarded the letter dozens of times. 

"It states that we do want some normalcy about going back face to face," Coats said. "But they're also making a plea to parents that, could you please consider signing your child up for virtual learning? I know that's impossible for a lot of people." 

As of Friday evening, a spokesperson for Knox County Schools said about 3,000 students had signed up for the virtual option. That is about 5 percent of all students enrolled with KCS.

The letter, signed by a group of educators, cautioned re-opening schools could cause the virus to spread further while endangering students, staff and their families. 

"That is how educators are feeling at this point," Tanya Coats said. "They are just as nervous as families and trying to make a decision for their families about going back to school."

Like many, Coats has been watching the growing numbers of COVID-19 cases in the community. She knows that's a big area of concern.

"The spread of it has exacerbated around the nation, but also particularly in Knox County," Coats said. "In the state of Tennessee, we're considered a hot spot. It's very concerning."

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Coats said she's been telling teachers that plans are written, but also meant to be changed. On Friday, Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas told 10News that they are closely monitoring the situation with the Knox County Health Department.

"It could be a situation that could change. The 17th of August is still a month away," Supt. Thomas said. "If things continue like they are, we could be in a situation where maybe the recommendation changes from the standpoint of offering virtual learning and in-person, to strictly online."

No matter what happens, Coats said that teachers have the same goal.

"We're just going to guarantee that we're going to do our very best for every student in Knox County," she said. "If and when — because we may not go back [in-person] on the 17th, if the numbers continue to rise — we just need to make sure that we're prepared by any means."

Students already enrolled at KCS will get an email telling them how to sign up for virtual learning via Aspen Family Portal. Students who aren’t already enrolled in school or do not have internet access can visit the student’s zoned school. 

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