West View 7th grade turning to optional virtual program

With half of West View Middle School’s seventh graders in COVID-19 quarantine, Dr. Jeff Perry, superintendent of Hamblen County Schools, said the system is encouraging all West View seventh graders to participate in an optional virtual program beginning Thursday.

“We have seen a significant spike in the number of cases in our seventh grade at West View Middle School,” Perry said “We have been forced to quarantine nearly half of (West View’s) seventh grade students, and it is no longer feasible, or safe, to provide instruction to all remaining students in person. We will implement an optional virtual program for all (West View) students in seventh grade starting on Thursday, Aug. 19.”

Perry said the program is specific to West View seventh graders and not necessary, or available, for students at other schools. In fact, Perry noted that four schools in the system have no active cases of COVID-19 at all.

“On August 19, we will encourage all (West View) students in the seventh grade to participate virtually,” he said. “However, school will be open for (non-quarantined) students who are unable to function well with virtual instruction, and they can attend school as long as they are symptom free.”

Perry said the school is operating normally on Wednesday, giving parents a day to consider options and make appropriate arrangements.

Perry said the virtual instruction will last only for about a week.

“The optional virtual program for this group of students will cease on August 27, and students should report back to in-person class on August 30 as long as they are not presenting symptoms,” Perry said. “ This short period of time will enable us to more effectively identify those students as being positive because they will have time to present symptoms. It is our hope this will allow us to stop the spread of the virus in our school.”

The announcement came a day after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee essentially declared any attempts by local school districts to curb the spread of the disease through mask mandates moot. Lee issued an executive order allowing parents to opt out of any locally issued mask mandate saying it was better for parents to make individual decisions about their child’s health.

Hamblen County officials have repeatedly said they were not planning a mask mandate this year. Perry said the governor’s order made any further discussion of a mask mandate pointless.

Perry said the non-quarantined West View students who are virtual will still have the opportunity to participate in extracurricular events as long as they complete all necessary assignments and are in good standing with the school.

Students may not return to school if they are presenting symptoms or if they have been quarantined by the school.

The move comes as the list of students infected with COVID-19 is growing. On Monday, the system reported new 34 student cases and five staff cases. On Tuesday, 32 additional new student cases and a single new staff case were reported.

The growing infections in the school system match the relative trend in the area and across the nation. Hamblen County did get some measure of good news Tuesday after a 65 new case jump over the weekend, the total number of active cases in the county dropped from 607 to 574. It is only the second time in a month that the Hamblen active case count dropped.

The high number of active cases is putting a strain on hospital resources across the country.

In Hamblen County, hospital officials indicate the increase in COVID cases has been significant.

“This increase is causing delays in our Emergency Department, and we request your patience,” a hospital spokesperson said. “ Of the current COVID cases, more than 80% are unvaccinated. People who are vaccinated and experience COVID are seeing fewer symptoms than those who are unvaccinated.

“The hospital is encouraging everyone to receive the vaccination, as this variant is more contagious and spreading more among younger adults and children than the previous strain.”

While the vaccine does not completely prevent recipients from getting COVID-19, it does greatly reduce the chances. And those with the vaccine who do contract the disease are far less likely to experience serious symptoms.

Medical experts encourage getting the vaccine, wearing a mask while indoors and following proper social distancing and hygiene practices.