Northeast Tennessee schools sanitizing campuses, boosting safety measures ahead of students return

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SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Schools across Northeast Tennessee are preparing to resume in August in hopes that staff and students will be able to come back to campus.

“We still have August 3rd on our calendar as our start date and we know our parents and our students are really looking forward to getting back to normalcy,” said Assistant Superintendent of Kingsport City Schools, Andy True.

Each district has come up with a plan, most in collaboration with their local health departments. While no plan is set in stone yet, a few ideas that have been tossed around include continuing online at-home learning or initiating a hybrid of online and in-person learning.

While school systems continue to make plans for the upcoming school year, one thing that is happening indefinitely is in-depth cleaning of all campuses. The custodial staff of these area schools has used this summer to thoroughly sanitize and disinfect classrooms and common spaces.

Andy True with Kingsport City Schools told News Channel 11 their staff has been closely monitoring COVID-19 case data in Sullivan County and the number of cases closer to the start of the academic year will have an impact on how they move forward.

Despite waiting to see what happens with theses numbers, plans of cleaning and sanitizing campuses have already been set in motion.

“We have added custodial staff this year, we’ve added to our budget for increased materials when it comes to even things like sprayers and chemicals just to be able to have a larger quantity of that,” said True.

True told News Channel 11 they’ve added $70,000 to the budget for cleaning materials as well as two additional custodians and additional funds from the CARES Act to cover any other needed materials.

With 14 physical locations in their district, Kingsport City School officials are doing everything they can in order to keep on track with their anticipated start date of August 3rd.

Kingsport City Schools are far from the only ones making adjustments when it comes to cleaning campuses for this upcoming school year. Bristol, Tennessee schools have also been in communication with the Sullivan County Health Department and have also developed a drafted plan for the start of the Fall semester. That plan includes purchasing as many cleaning materials as they can get their hands on, a process that’s already underway.

“We really want our kids back with us, but safety is our primary concern and if it’s not safe for them to be with us in our building, then we need to take precautions to make sure that we’re as safe as we can be,” said Interim Director of Bristol, TN Schools, Dr. Annette Tudor.

Dr. Tudor told News Channel 11 they plan to implement around the clock cleaning as much as they can when classes are in session.

“If there’s a class change at a secondary level for instance our teachers will do some classroom cleaning so it happens frequently throughout the day,” she said.

Right now, Bristol, Tennessee schools are also looking at hybrid options for the Fall semester. So far, they’ve conducted a survey with families who say they would like to have options when it comes to determining how their child attends school. Eight schools make up the district.

In Sullivan County Schools, Director of schools, David Cox, said while an outline of the plan has been released, it is still being actively developed and altered. They have a call every Thursday with other school leaders in the county to discuss the next steps in this process.

As of now, July 9th is the target date to have everything as settled as possible. At this time, Sullivan County schools do not have plans to hire any additional custodial staff. Cox says they will continue disinfecting schools but will heavily rely on students and staff to continue social distancing since person to person spread remains the main concern.

In Washington County, Tennessee schools the start date for the 2020-2021 school year is set on August 3rd. Their goal is to have a full opening with every teacher and student back in class, but this is dependent on the infection rate across the county.

There’s a protocol in place if the infection rate rises, which includes a plan for only a fraction of students to be in the classroom. Flanary said this would consist of students being engaged in learning 5 days a week but only physically in school part of the week.

Sanitizing efforts have also been boosted to every hour once students and staff return to campuses and Flanary told News Channel 11 that it will be an all-hands-on-deck effort. “Every adult, and to some extent the students will be responsible as well. It’s all hands on deck. We’re all going to try to be as clean as possible,” he said.

Keith Perrigan with Bristol, Virginia schools said they have also increased their cleaning materials for the upcoming school year and created a plan. The reopening committee was brought together for the first time on Tuesday to discuss a 42 page document made by the district’s leadership team that is currently under review. One thing for certain is that additional cleaning supplies and materials will be a part of this plan.

Perrigan said more Clorox 360 machines will be added with four large machines and eight smaller handheld machines becoming available.

Officials with Bristol, Virginia Schools said they are also considering renting storage space to take out non-essential items in classrooms in order to make more room for students to social distance.

Right now, it’s too early to tell exactly what this school year will look like, but as far as preparations go, these school systems say they’re on track.

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