Hamblen schools to host virtual forum

Dr. Jeff Perry, Hamblen County school superintendent, led a virtual forum Tuesday night, answering a slate of questions including questions about masks, how the school system will determine school closures and whether more fans can attend sporting events.

The predominant questions of the night revolved around one thing: COVID-19.

As the forum kicked off, Perry said there could be some miscues.

“This is our first virtual forum, so I’m sure there will be mistakes,” he said.

Instead, the forum went off almost mistake free as he addressed questions.

In one instance, there was a question from someone saying the person did not believe masks helped and where did the school system get their sources that they do and the question right after was that the school system should not lift a mask mandate and if they did can the student go online.

“I think that certainly shows the differences in opinion,” Perry said.

Perry said the sources of his information come from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Tennessee Health Department and the local health department.

He said there were absolutely no plans at this time to lift a mask mandate at schools and he said masks do indeed work.

“The mask mandate will help us stop this virus,” he said.

Perry said he thinks there will be a time when the mask mandate will be lifted, but it will be later, rather than sooner. He said he sees the mask usage continuing for the next several months.

He was also asked about students being able to take off masks at some points during the day. The questioner asked if there was a possibility that a student could take the mask off and put it on when the instructor came within six feet. Perry said, at this time, that was not a possibility.

“We know it’s an inconvenience,” he said.

But, he said it’s a necessary inconvenience to protect others in the school system. He said there are a number of teachers who are older and they need to be as safe as possible. He also stated that if the mask requirements were relaxed it could mean shutting down schools. Perry was also asked about what the criteria was for shutting down schools.

“There is no set prescribed answer to that question,” he said.

He said there is no number that the school system has in mind on when and how schools should be closed. He said the school system has thought more about closing schools that may have high rates of infection in the future instead of districtwide closures.

He pointed out that there are schools in the county, right now, that have not even had one case of the coronavirus, either students or staff.

Another question asked if schools close down, how would the school system handle special needs children?

Perry said they had plans in place to address that and have action plans for school physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists.

But, he said it would still be limited in some ways.

“It will look a little different,” Perry said.

Finally, Perry was asked if the school system could start letting more fans into games.

“We have been increasing the number of tickets sold for football games,” he said.

But, he said there will have to continue to be limits placed on games and as the schools start fall sports, he said there will be limits on how many people can go into school gyms.

He said the most important part is that people continue to wear masks. But, he said in several instances, he has seen people walk into the football stadium wearing a mask, only to take them off.

“They seem to think it’s optional,” he said. “It is not.”