Knox County Board of Education votes against mask mandate; approves COVID-19 dashboard, employee leave

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Knox County Schools Board of Education voted 5-4 against a mask mandate in its schools late Wednesday night after hours of debate among board members and the public. The vote was just one of the votes taken on matters considering COVID-19 protocols.

The board did approve a reinstatement of a school based COVID-19 dashboard. The dashboard will be done school-by-school and use active case ranges as determined appropriate by the KCS administration and the Knox County Law Department.

A vote to implement isolation leave for full-time Knox County Schools employees who test positive for COVID-19 and that are be required to quarantine also passed.

The board also voted to update the district’s attendance policy. The revisions include:

Students who participate in Remote Instruction during a temporary COVID-19 Isolation or Quarantine
Period may be counted as present if daily student attendance is taken and includes daily periodic visual,
verbal, and/or written confirmation of student participation in six and one-half (6 ½) hours of
instructional time per day for grades one (1) through twelve (12) and four (4) hours of instructional time
per day for Kindergarten, using multiple methods of confirming student attendance.

Two or more of the following methods of monitoring attendance must apply for a student to be counted
present:
(i) Students participate in a phone call with a teacher, with parent or legal guardian support
as appropriate for the age of the student;
(ii) (ii) Students participate in synchronous virtual instruction;
(iii) (iii) Students complete work via the Canvas learning management system;
(iv) (iv) Students submit work via hard-copy or virtual formats; or SCHOOL AND
STUDENT HEALTH SERVICES CHAPTER 0520-01-13 (Rule 0520-01-13-.01,
continued) April, 2021 (Revised)

On Tuesday, Aug. 31, Knox County Schools had a student attendance rate of 83.8% and a staff attendance rate of 90.6%. In addition, the school reports there are nearly 700 active cases in Knox County Schools.

“Three of my kids are quarantined, I’m living out of my basement,” Knox County resident Jason Varney said during the public discussion part of the meeting. “That (expletive) for families, and we all could have avoided this if the school system would have put some of these mitigation strategies into effect before the school year started.”

At this time there are more cases of COVID-19 among children ages 5 to 17 than at any point during the pandemic. The Knox County Health Department is currently working with Knox County Schools to create better systems for contact tracing with schools. However, KCHD says the process is slow-moving due to staff shortages and the rise in cases throughout the county.

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