KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Hundreds of parents in Knox County Schools are dealing with keeping their kids home due to positive COVID-19 cases. Other parents are also having their children stay home due to possible exposures to COVID-19.
Between the two groups, there are questions, concerns and frustrations about what little they feel like they’re being told from school leaders and the Knox County Health Department. Sara Martin’s daughter Dinah took part in virtual learning last year, along with another family they were close to.
“We’re really appreciative that that was an option, because it helped all of us feel much better about being able to protect our kids from what at that point was a big mystery, and still is in many ways a big mystery, COVID,” Martin said.
When she had to choose between virtual learning or commit to regular schooling at Beaumont Magnet Academy for the 2021-2022 school year, Martin said she felt OK with her daughter going back to school. However, at the time, she thought certain COVID-19 precautions would still be in place.
Fast forward to the third week of school, her daughter is now in quarantine after being exposed to another student who tested positive for the virus. The news almost seemed to come out of nowhere, at least for her child’s class.
“But seriously, this past week, from Monday to Friday, was night and day. Like, I went from knowing almost no one with a COVID exposure to multiple families in my social circle having COVID positive kids,” Martin said.
She didn’t find out from the school, nor from KCHD. The close contact was a family friend, so she heard it from the parents of that student directly. Martin said without hearing from health officials, that meant she was never told what she should do, knowing that her child sat next to the positive-COVID student during lunch.
“The only, like, official guidance we got was from the CDC. Like, knew to go and consult with the CDC and figure out what the protocol should be, but we haven’t been given any official direction,” Martin said.
Martin said her whole family has been tested via rapid COVID testing, and all came back negative. But, she believes they might have tested too soon and is worried that her youngest, at 2 years old, can’t get the molecular testing, although he did have a fever.
One of her concerns is the virus is spreading faster than public health officials can handle, leaving parents without knowing if their child was exposed unless they personally know a positive case.
“Apparently we don’t have the bandwidth to be able to notify people about proper protocols and a lot of it’s just being left up to like, I’m fortunate that I’m friends with the parents of the kid who was tested positive because otherwise, I might not have ever found out,” Martin said.
Amy Tucker’s family was one that wasn’t given a heads up of possible exposure. She had heard of others in her children’s classes not coming to school or leaving early.
“The second week, I started hearing about how many kids were going home sick in everybody’s classes every day. And it seemed like it was at least two or three a day, my kids said they were going homesick. So, I was like ‘oh no, it’s coming to get us,'” Tucker said.
But, she was never told either of her children were exposed. Instead, one weekend her daughter just started feeling sick.
“So, my daughter started feeling yucky on Saturday. She just had, really like allergy, head cold type symptoms. She was super, super tired,” Tucker said.
Tucker decided to test her daughter and the whole family before school started back on Monday. Her daughter tested positive, but the rest of the family tested negative.
At that point, it wasn’t easy getting into the pediatrician’s office for a confirmed test result, and then the doctor told her it would be a few days before the results came back, due to a backlog in testing.
“It was Wednesday afternoon before we heard for sure that her test was positive. At that point, my other child was showing symptoms, so I went ahead and made him an appointment to be tested,” Tucker said.
A few days later, her son still tested negative. But, she still hadn’t heard anything from the school or KCHD about her COVID-positive daughter.
“We still haven’t gotten any calls. We haven’t gotten any calls to you know, to check who she might have been in contact with since she was positive. We haven’t gotten any calls about that either,” Tucker said.
The one call she did receive from the school was from the nurse.
“She said she couldn’t really advise us on what to do, because she’s not allowed to do that this year. But, she did ask us to send a like a picture or a copy of the positive test results to her, so that it could be counted as a case,” Tucker said.
Fortunately, her daughter’s pediatrician gave easy to follow directions when it came to isolating and how long she needed to isolate, as well as how long her brother–who was symptomatic but tested negative, should quarantine.
After her kids learned virtually last year, she thought at least something would be in place. But, at this point, Tucker realized the district didn’t have a specific plan in place for students like hers.
“There was no like, no cohesive policy or plan. It was just kind of up to the teachers and me to get it together,” Tucker said.
Tucker’s kids go to Cedar Bluff Elementary and Middle schools. She had to reach out to nine different teachers to get the work for her children, and how she got those assignments varied from email to Canvas to paper.
With the testing delays, Tucker feels her son might be out of school for three weeks. She said he learns better in person and wishes the district had a more cohesive plan.
“We could easily be in this position again with him, since he’s tested negative, he’s not tested positive. He goes back to school and he gets re-exposed, and we could start the whole cycle over again…I think if Knox County’s truly concerns about learning loss and the ever-important test scores, they’re going to have to take some kind of action to help keep kids at school,” Tucker said.
Both Tucker and Martin believe better protocols should be in place to inform parents about possible exposures, and quarantine and isolation times.
“They don’t need to be at school if they’re sick, or if there’s a chance they’re going to be and they could give it to somebody else who would have a bad outcome from it. So, I think we need some kind of plan for how the kids are going to learn when they do have to be at home,” Tucker said.
They both also feel that more safety precautions, such as masks, need to be in place at schools, so kids can stay in the classroom.
“Not doing lunch in a crowded cafeteria, serving in the classroom instead; having physical barriers in between students sitting at desks, socially distancing so they’re not sitting right next to each other, opening windows,” Martin said.
According to Knox County Schools staff:
- The Knox County Health Department is responsible for contact tracing, and for communicating guidance to individuals who are identified as close contacts. Students who have COVID-like symptoms should stay home. Absences related to COVID-19 will be excused.
- Teachers will post asynchronous assignments for students who are in isolation or quarantine, which can be completed while they are away from school. Any work that cannot be completed asynchronously will be offered as a makeup assignment when students return to in-person instruction.
- Staff and students who are isolated due to COVID-19 will only be allowed to return with documentation. This can be a release from a physician or KCHD.