Fountain City group pens letter pressing Knox County Schools to step up COVID-19 efforts


"You were elected or appointed to safeguard and enhance the health and welfare of our community. Do your job!"

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A Fountain City community group is urging Knox County Schools to take greater action to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in a memo sent to district leaders and Superintendent Bob Thomas.

The 9-member board of Fountain City Town Hall, a nonprofit community development group, sent a letter to county leaders strongly urging them to, “do what every responsible adult would do to protect our children from COVID-19 while attending school.” The letter was sent to members of the Knox County School Board, Knox County Commission members and Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas.

The letter asks that Knox County Schools do the following:

  1. Require Knox County Schools to follow the CDC guidelines for in-person learning.
  2. Provide parents with the information they need to keep their children and family safe, including the number of students, faculty, or staff testing positive or quarantined in each specific school.
  3. End all confusion regarding the temporary or other use of virtual learning by a specific school experiencing a COVID surge, or for an individual student out of school due to COVID

“You were elected or appointed to safeguard and enhance the health and welfare of our
community. Do your job!,” the letter reads.

“Children are totally dependent on adults to safeguard their health. Local elected and appointed officials should have the backbone it takes to protect the Knox County School system students,” Fountain City Town Hall Secretary Carlene Malone said in a statement. “Please look at what other large school systems in Tennessee are doing. It is time to act responsibly and do what is required to protect kids.”

Students and staff in Shelby County, Tennessee’s most populous county, are required to masks in schools even in they’re vaccinated. The Metro Nashville Board of Education also adopted a universal mask mandate for the start of the year. Hamilton County Schools and Williamson County Schools have also implemented similar requirements.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed an Executive Order earlier this month that gives parents the ability to opt their child out of school mask mandates if enacted by a school district or health board.

The Knox County Schools board voted not to issue a mask mandate ahead of the school year. Knox County Schools have opted not to conduct their own contact tracing as they did last year, instead leaving that responsibility to the Knox County Health Department. The switch prompted some groups of parents to crowdsource their own contact tracing data.

Knox County has reported over 600 cases of COVID-19 among student and staff since the fall semester began on Aug. 9. While the KCS COVID-19 data dashboard does not provide details on cases at specific schools, families now receive notifications from their child’s school principal if there is a confirmed case at their school.

In a letter sent to parents on Aug. 25, Superintendent Thomas said that while entire schools are not allowed to move to online learning, isolated or quarantined students will have the opportunity to temporarily receive virtual instruction.

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