ANDERSON COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — A new school year kicks off this week for many school districts in our region. Students will soon reunite with familiar teachers and friends, as well as familiar COVID-19 protocols in the classroom.
Many school districts have already announced their mask policies. Hancock County Schools will require them, both inside buildings and on buses. Face coverings are optional for schools in Anderson, Blount, Grainger, Jefferson, Loudon, and Union Counties.
Ryan Sutton, the Communications and Public Relations Coordinator for Anderson County Schools, said many precautions this year will mirror those from last year. “Towards the end of the year, we realized that most of the virus transmission that was happening was not off the close contacts in the schools,” he said. “We believe we were very successful at keeping the transmission of the virus as low as possible at our schools.”
Their precautions for the upcoming school year include seating charts, limited field trips, free onsite COVID-19 testing with parent approval, physical barriers when distancing isn’t possible, and visitors by appointment only.
“Our big focus is safety of our students and staff. we’re going to do what we think is the best thing for our students. Right now, with the numbers the way they are, we believe having school and having them here in a normal environment and a very consistent environment is the best thing for them,” Sutton added.
Shaunda Morris, a mother of two elementary school students, noted both are excited for the upcoming school year. “I think, as adults, we put a lot more thought into it. But, my children, it didn’t bother them at all. Even sometimes when we would leave the building, I would be like you can take your mask off, you don’t have to wear it in the car. But, they didn’t even think about it being on,” she said.
Jefferson County Director of Schools, Shane Johnston, said they plan to begin the school year with “common-sense steps” to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Those steps include contact tracing, social distancing where possible, limiting restrooms, avoiding the use of lockers at middle and high schools, and limited visitation. These are also policies students and staff experienced last year.
“We’ll have to adjust throughout the year based on the situation and the updates from the health officials,” he said.
Johnston noted he’s excited to see students return, but also aware of the growing number of cases in the region. “We have lots of employees around the county, their immune system may be impacted as well, so we have to look out for balancing the health of our employees and our students as well,” he said.
Parents in Sevier County will not know what precautions students will face there until the school board meets next Monday night.