MORRISTOWN, Tenn. (WATE) — As the new school year inches closer, districts are releasing plans to get students and teachers back in the classroom safely amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Students in the Hamblen County School District are scheduled to return July 31.
Jeff Perry, the Hamblen County Schools superintendent, said school districts across the country are having to reinvent what a normal day in class looks like.
Parents in Hamblen County will have the option to send their child to in-person class come July 31, or stay at home and participate in online classes.
“So parents who don’t feel comfortable sending their children to school, or the child or parent has some kind of health condition, we will have an online option,” Perry said.
Perry said that essentially, the two types of class will be done simultaneously, but not necessarily in the sense of live-streaming the in-person class.
Certain teachers will be designated to teach the online curriculum, sometimes on top of their normal class schedule.
Before school starts, Perry said parents need to find out their at home computer capabilities and WiFi strength, checking to see if they can access the online program with no issues.
Perry said that if families choose to keep their students home, but don’t have a computer or enough computers at home, the district ordered 2,200 computers students can rent out.
Families also have the option to reach out to the district for a discount on certain computers if they are looking to buy one.
He said many families in Hamblen County might not have access to WiFi, so the district also ordered 500 WiFi hotpots.
“We are also looking at the option of potentially putting some WiFi spots on a school bus and then taking that school bus to some of our more heavily, densely populated areas,” Perry said.
If choosing the online platform, parents must also attend an in-person training session, showing staff they know how to use the online program.
Perry said he heard from many students and parents who said they want to return to in-person classes.
If families choose on-site education, Perry said they will have different procedures to follow.
Although checking the temperature of 10,500 students daily, Perry said the district is working to make that happen.
Students will have their temperature taken either before getting on the bus or before entering the school building.
If a middle school or high school student has a temperature higher than 100 degrees before getting on the bus, that student will be sent home and the parents and school will be notified.
If an elementary student has a temperature higher than 100 degrees before getting on the bus, they will be asked to go home IF the driver can be assured a parent will be home to take care of them. If the child does not have someone home, the student will be isolated on the bus and taken to school, and isolated at the school until a parent can pick them up.
Other than temperature checks, bus transportation won’t change. The district’s plan stated the reason was because they couldn’t purchase more buses, nor could they hire more drivers.
Masks are recommended, but not required.
Perry said class sizes will be smaller. The district will attempt to limit classes to 15 students.
He said that some classes will have a few more due to feasibility, but no class will have more than 20.
The district wasn’t able to hire additional teachers to help with smaller class sizes. Perry said that within the last couple of weeks they found out their budget was cut by almost $680,000, so there was no way they could pay for more teachers.
Perry said that class times will change slightly, spreading out when students are in the hallway or at lunch.
Students and teachers will take part in keeping the school disinfected and clean as well.
“The custodians will do the primary job of cleaning and disinfecting, but every teacher, every kid, now has to become part of that process. That we’re all responsible for keeping our school clean and disinfected,” Perry said.
Students will also receive extra lessons in personal hygiene.
“(Teach students) about not sharing things, not taking a bite of the candy bar and then giving it to your friend, about not sharing jackets or hats or other items that might be infected,” Perry said.
The district changed school closure policy in the event a student tests positive for COVID-19.
If a student in a classroom tests positive, the entire class would then be sent home for 10 days, continuing their education online, depending on the level of contact with the infected student.
Other options include closing entire grade levels, the whole school and the entire district if need be.
Perry said that’s why he wants every parent to know how to set up online schooling and make sure their internet works.
The district posted a YouTube video for parents summarizing the changes.
Perry said he is in constant contact with the Hamblen County Coronavirus Task Force. The district will change any plans when deemed necessary.
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