Knox County parents face back-to-school choice amid rising COVID-19 rates

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KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) – Send them back to the classroom, or figure out a way to keep them learning at home? That dilemma is on the minds of East Tennessee parents as COVID-19 case counts rise, and the first day of school is just around the corner.

Some parents say they’re anxiously watching case counts tick up and trying to figure out what’s best for their children and families, while others have already decided on a change in plans.

“Our dream was exploded of our child going back to school. It’s now not a celebratory thing or an exciting thing, it’s a terrifying and anxiety-provoking thing,” said Katie Allison, a parent of a Knox County student.

Allison is among some parents struggling to figure out how to handle the upcoming school year.

One of her students is vaccinated, but she’s concerned for the other, who is too young to be eligible.

“We were planning for in-person and we were a little nervous about it anyway, with Knox County’s low vaccination rate. But we were going to do it. But oh my goodness, the last three weeks it’s an incredibly difficult decision,” she said.

As she toys with exactly what to do next, other parents have made up their minds.

“We made the difficult decision to homeschool the children who are not vaccine eligible at least for the fall semester,” said parent Eric Moore.

And he’s not alone. Another parent we spoke to also chose to homeschool.

“Over the past month as numbers have continued to climb and we’ve watched the data and the startling trends about the Delta variant, it absolutely solidified that this was the best decision for us,” Angela Hoffman said.

Both Hoffman and Moore say they’ll feel comfortable with in-person learning again when their kids are able to get a shot, while another family tries to decide if it’s still the right option.

“Are we struggling with the decision? That would be an understatement. It’s one of the harder decisions we’ve ever had to make as a parent,” said Allison.

A Knox County Schools spokesperson sent us the following statement on Tuesday evening:

Knox County Schools is continuing to monitor circumstances related to COVID-19 in our community. At this time, we are not planning any changes unless the Board of Education policy regarding face coverings is reinstated.

For additional context, please see Superintendent Bob Thomas’s update from the BOE’s June 30 work session, which stated that “At this time our expectation is that the COVID-19 restrictions implemented a year ago will not be in place for the 2021-22 school year.” In that statement, the superintendent went on to say that “Masks will not be required for students, teachers or employees, although they will be allowed at each individual’s discretion.”

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