Alcoa City Schools closed Friday for illness recovery; football game will be played Thursday

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ALCOA, Tenn. (WATE) — Officials with Alcoa City Schools said Thursday that schools will be closed Friday, Sept. 3 “in order to provide an extra day for students and staff to rest and recover from illness.” Additionally, extracurricular sporting events and practices are canceled beginning Friday.

Students will return to school on Wednesday, Sept. 8, the same day the district will begin offering a new schedule for COVID testing.

Rebecca Stone, the Director of Schools, said the decision was made because a few different illnesses were spreading around students and staff.

“We’ve had lots of illness, not necessarily just COVID. Our elementary school really hasn’t been hit hard with COVID this year, but they’ve been hit really hard with RSV, with strep throat, with this nasty stomach bug,” Stone said.

Stone said COVID-19 cases recently started to rise within the four schools in the district, but mainly at the intermediate and middle schools.

Overall, Stone said, about 36 students and staff tested positive within the district. That’s out of 2,100 students.

But, as of Tuesday, about 10% of all students were absent. So, Stone said it was time for a break to recover and deep clean.

“We just thought, you know this is a good time to give at least one extra day. That will give, um, a five day weekend for out students to get out of the buildings, hopefully get well if they’re not feeling well, stay away from those who may be sick…On Monday, our custodial staff will be back at work making sure everything’s wiped down. Everything’s sprayed down, everything’s nice and good and clean for our students when they come back on Wednesday,” Stone said.

Stone said she was hoping for a somewhat normal school year for her students. Summer school went great. Illnesses weren’t spreading around like they are now.

“We went through summer camps with great success and started school mid-July thinking and hoping that we would have a little bit of back to normal for our students. And we started that way,” Stone said.

But, just a few weeks in that changed. She was adamant: COVID-19 wasn’t the only illness of concern spreading around.

She said more cases were popping up around the community, and then slowly in the district. When COVID-19 cases did start to rise, the district implemented a mask mandate for staff.

“Just this week, we have set the requirement that all staff in all buildings will wear a face mask. The only exclusion to that is when they are up in front of a classroom teaching, and the students can be distanced away,” Stone said.

She said they have been good with other precautions, such as sanitizing in between classes, social distancing when they can and reminding students to wash their hands often.

Unlike some other districts, the illnesses have hit teachers, but not like students and not like last year.

“That was challenge this time last year. Keeping our classes going because we didn’t have anybody to staff them. This year, we’ve been very fortunate in the sense that our teachers haven’t gotten as sick,” Stone said.

At least two parents are fine with the decision to close for an extra day ahead of the holiday weekend.

“I think it would be good to give them a chance to get everything cleaned up, because I know there’s a lot of sickness and stuff going around,” Clint Pinner, a parent of Alcoa Schools students, said.

As a substitute and mother, Jill Oldham said she just goes with the flow and doesn’t envy the decision Director Stone has to make during this difficult time.

“I think everybody just needs to have a little bit of grace during this time. It’s been hard on everybody, and she’s no different,” Oldham said.

Oldham said the extra day off could be good for the district.

“Hopefully if we can sanitize everything and um keep everyone home for several days, the some of the sicknesses will get better, and you know everything will be cleaner,” Oldham said.

Stone hopes the time away helps reduce the spread of any illness. But, with it being the holiday weekend, she wants students to have fun while also being smart.

“Wear a mask when you’re around a lot of others, or um, wash your hands a lot, keep your hands away from your face. You know, don’t be with folks that you know are sick or have just gotten over being sick or just not feeling well,” Stone said.

The Alcoa Tornadoes football team will play Thursday at Northview Academy. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. in Kodak.

The school district released the newly developed COVID schedule on Tuesday, stating that “due to the increased demand for COVID testing and in order to meet the needs of our diabetics and students who are scheduled to come to our clinics for daily medications, a new schedule for COVID testing for the district has been developed.”  

Effective Sept. 8, COVID testing will be available Monday-Friday at the following times for any pre-K-12 student/staff member:

  • AES 8:00-9:00 a.m. in the parking zone near pre-K pickup                 
    (Nurse contact: 982-3120 or koaks@alcoaschools.net)
  • AIS 8:30-9:15 a.m.  at the AIS front entrance                                           
    (Nurse contact: 982-4767 sclay@alcoaschools.net)
  • AMS 10:15-11:00 a.m. under the 7th grade awning                                 
    (Nurse contact: 982-5211 clauderback@alcoaschools.net)
  • AHS 1:45-2:15 p.m.  at the high school front entrance                                 
    (Nurse contact: 982-4631 hadams@alcoaschools.net   -or-  adeatherage@alcoaschools.net

Alcoa City Schools said parents can bring students to any of the schools, at one of the above-listed times, in order to be tested; “If possible,  please notify the respective nurse, in advance, that you are coming.”

The district also clarified that students do not have to be tested at their own school; however, results will be reported and tracing for positive cases will be conducted by the respective child’s school nurse.  Parents are asked to keep sick/quarantined children in the car and call the school nurse. The nurse will come out to the car to perform testing. 

As of Sept. 1, Blount County has 1,152 active cases, according to the COVID data dashboard on the Tennessee Department of Health’s website. A separate data set that shows as of Sept. 1, the number of COVID cases among children ages 5-18 years old shows there were 2,614 cases; with 354 cases reported within the last 14 days.

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