Some Knox County parents thankful for a break from in-person classes amid high COVID-19 cases

Coronavirus

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Central High and Austin-East Magnet High students will be learning virtually starting Tuesday, and some parents feel relieved about the switch.

In letters sent to parents and staff on Saturday, Central High Principal Andrew Brown and Austin-East Principal Tammi Campbell said students will move to online learning Tuesday, Sept. 7 through Friday, Sept. 10.

According to attendance data, only 77.4% of Austin-East students were at school on Friday, and 71.7% of Central High students were at school on Friday. Central High had fewer than 75% of students throughout last week.

Some parents said it was about time the kids stayed home. LaShea Love, a parent of two Austin-East students, said her kids told her some of the classes were combined because too many teachers were out.

“Speaking from the nursing aspect, because that’s what I do for a living, you’re combining classes, which is adding to the situation where it’s just going to expand COVID, because now you’ve got overcrowding in these classrooms and you have no mandates on the masks or social distancing,” Love said.

Being a nurse, Love was nervous for her kids to go to school this year with no mask mandates in place, along with a few other changes from the COVID-19 precautions KCS had last year. The worry grew when she heard from her kids that several teachers and students were absent or sick.

“They knew a lot of kids that had COVID, they knew a lot of kids that were at school with COVID, because we’re not doing what we did last year as far as screening them when they came in. I know it’s a hassle, but I feel like it’s a necessity,” Love said.

Being a nurse, she knows what the COVID-19 situation looks like on the frontlines. She’s also had three family members die from COVID within a month. So, she’s relieved her kids will be at home while cases are spreading. She won’t have to worry, at least for a week.

“Because I see it on a daily basis, and I know what it can do, it is a worry off of me. Cause I’m constantly getting on their nerves, ‘how you feeling? Do you feel this symptom? Do you feel this symptom? Do you feel symptoms?’ And they’re like, ‘oh my God please stop asking me,'” Love said.

Cyndi Buchanan has a daughter at Central High. She also feels a little relieved knowing her daughter will be home for the week. Two weeks ago, her daughter told her several kids were missing from class, especially from band.

“There were five out of ten in her section in band missing, so that was definitely very concerning to me considering they’re in very close contact,” Buchanan said.

What also concerned her was not hearing from anyone that her daughter was in close contact with another student who tested positive.

“She had friends text her and say, ‘hey, just want to let you know I’ve got COVID. Just so you know.’ But, nobody from the school contacted us, of course, they’re not allowed to. It’s just friends contacting each other,” Buchanan said.

Although her daughter is vaccinated, the sophomore was glad school is going virtual for the week, because she felt it was only a matter of time before she got COVID.

Both Love and Buchanan questioned whether the teachers would be prepared to go virtual, especially since several parents were told it wasn’t an option.

“It just didn’t sound like that was even on (the district’s) radar any time soon,” Buchanan said.

Love believed the district should have been prepared from the beginning to go virtual because from her point of view cases had been rising again since before school started.

“I’m not sure why they’re not prepared, because we know that the pandemic is still here. I feel like, in a lot of ways, that it’s worse now than it once was. And I don’t understand why we don’t have (virtual) in place,” Love said.

Some teachers worked over the holiday weekend to get reacquainted with the online platforms. Buchanan felt fortunate that at least a few of her daughter’s teachers had some type of virtual setup in place since the start of the school year.

“I know some classes have been working almost all on Canvas, whereas others it seems like they’re going to have to do some catching up to get everything set up so that she can do all of her assignments the next week in there,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan said parents and students need to give teachers some patience while they make the switch. Both parents hope this week will allow any sick students or teachers to recover and the schools undergo extreme cleaning.

Love said her kids aren’t all too happy about going virtual. Her daughter prefers in-person classes. But, they know why it’s important they are staying home. With her daughter being a senior, Love is worried typical senior activities will be canceled if they don’t put more precautions in place.

According to district leaders, the Teaching and Learning Department, as well as the Educational Technology Department, put together instructional support resources for educators at both schools.

They will also offer virtual and on-site support throughout the week. Leaders said the additional support is on top of the training and resources that were made available before school started, and they will continue throughout the school year.

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