Knox County parent wonders how schools will handle quarantine absences

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — As thousands of students quarantine or isolate due to COVID-19 in the 2021-2022 school year, parents wonder how their child will learn without a virtual option like last year.

Kristina Ward has two kids in Knox County Schools. The day before school returned for the new year, her kids started showing COVID-19 symptoms. A rapid test came back positive for her daughter, who’s in fourth grade at Powell Elementary, but her first-grade son’s test came back negative.

She decided to quarantine them for the first two days of school as they awaited test COVID-19 results from the doctor. The same result, although her non-positive son had worse symptoms than his COVID-positive sister.

“There were a couple of days I was very concerned. He just couldn’t catch his breath,” Ward said.

Since her son showed symptoms, she said they were told to treat him as COVID-positive, which means neither child was going to school for the next several days. Fortunately for her first-grader, a thick packet was available and kept him busy for the week.

Unfortunately for her fourth-grader, not a lot of work was available. She didn’t have her Chromebook yet, nor have any of the textbooks she needed.

“Her teacher sent home like five math papers for her to do and that was it,” Ward said.

Paula Hancock, the Knox County Education Association President, said teachers are usually prepared for long student absences and their own.

“There’s always been an absence policy because we’ve always had students that were going to be absent from one time or another in school,” Hancock said.

She said teachers learned a lot from last year, which prepared them for this year. In addition, she says teachers had two weeks before the last school year started to get acclimated with the online programs. Teachers still have access to those programs this year.

“The platforms are there for you to upload your lessons, upload your practice work, the students have their laptops at home,” Hancock said.

Obviously, with Ward’s situation, her kids didn’t have access to their school-owned laptops due to not being in class for the first several days of school. She said their teachers also told her virtual wasn’t an option.

However, Superintendent Bob Thomas just sent out a letter to parents Wednesday night stating the online lesson plans were available, but video chat wouldn’t be.

Hancock said it’s been like that since the beginning of the year. She also said it’s a great way to make sure students are getting their lessons at home, it just looks a little different.

“They’re not engaged, actually having a teacher that’s looking at them via Zoom or Microsoft Teams, but they can engage in other ways so that they will not be behind and they can stay current with what’s going on in the classroom,” Hancock said.

Hancock said Canvas makes it easier for teachers to upload their lesson plans online, but it’s also not the only way parents can make sure their kids are learning at home. For example, Ward stopped by the school and picked up paper packets of the lesson plans.

Speaking of lesson plans, Hancock said teachers always have a plan in place for when they’re absent as well.

“I always kept a binder. As a matter of fact, I kept binders of lessons for the days that I would be absent. So, if I had to have a substitute, you know there would be work,” Hancock said.

Hancock taught at Karns Middle last year, so she knows how teachers planned during the first full year during the pandemic, and being the KCEA President, knows how some plan for this year. She said teachers don’t usually leave new lessons for substitutes. Instead, they use that time away for students to practice lessons they need more work on.

“We want to make sure that they are practicing things that they know and need to strengthen,” Hancock said.

Hancock said teachers often times put in extra hours after school just to make sure absent students can access lesson plans, and lesson plans are ready for when they can’t teach. She said the goal of a teacher is to ensure students are achieving the most they can, whether in school or out. That’s why part of absent policies includes what happens when a student comes back.

“I don’t know any teacher that wouldn’t take the time out to sit down, you know, with a student, and to make sure that they have an understanding of the knowledge that we’re trying to embark,” Hancock said.

Ward said her children’s teachers were good with her kids when they were out for numerous days, but it was daunting for her fourth-grader when she returned to class.

“When my daughter went to school on Monday, she came home in tears. She’s like, they did so much and I don’t know to do it,” Ward said.

Ward said her daughter is shy, so isn’t one to immediately go to the teacher and ask for help, however, now her daughter is caught up. Her new worry is what will happen and how far her children would get behind if they had to quarantine again. Without a mask mandate, she feels that could happen.

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