It appears many things are changing quickly in this new normal and our plans seem to be extremely fluid. We understand these ever changing plans can be a challenge for many of our parents. We apologize for the inconveniences this may cause, especially for our working parents. However, we are attempting to make an effort to ensure we keep everyone updated as much as possible. Please review the following information and contact us if you have any questions.
1. We have developed a draft copy of the school calendar for the upcoming school year. It is important to acknowledge everyone has a personal interest in the school calendar because it has an important impact on our daily lives. Most parents, students, and staff want a calendar which adapts specifically to their own vacation and family plans, work schedules, and individual needs. However, it is important to develop a calendar to meet our instructional needs but still supports our community. We have posted a draft calendar to our website. We are submitting to our community and staff for feedback.
The following is a quick summary of the proposed calendar. First, school will begin on September 8. This will be a full day. We will decide later in August whether we will attend all virtually, all in class, or a combination of the two. Second, we eliminated the fall break in October because it would have been less than six weeks from the beginning of school. Third, we had to dismiss school on November 3 because this is Election Day, and many of our schools are used for voting locations. It is virtually impossible for us to have school during a national election.
Fourth, we extended the Thanksgiving Break to a full week (November 23–27) to help compensate for the loss of our fall break. Fifth, we will dismiss early on December 22 for winter break. We will return to school on January 4. Fifth, we normally have Martin Luther King Day as a holiday. However, this year we needed to be in school as much as possible to prevent our ending date extending further into June. We will use this as a day of celebration and recognition of Dr. King. Sixth, our first semester will end on January 22 which will provide 85 days in the first semester. This day will be an early dismissal which will enable our high school staff to prepare for the second semester. Normally we would take an entire day between semesters, but again, we did not want to extend the school year any further into June.
Seventh, we moved spring break up a few days to correspond with Good Friday. This provides us with a full week of spring break. Eighth, we will dismiss school on Memorial Day because many parents will be off on that day and they may want to do something with their family. Ninth, we will have graduation on June 4. Finally, June 7 will be our last day of school, and it will be an early dismissal.
You may email Mrs. Karlene Webb (email@example.com) and provide thoughts, suggestions, and ideas. Place “school calendar” in the subject line. We will submit the proposed calendar, along with your ideas and suggestions to the board of education at our August meeting.
2. We have always attempted to be open and transparent with our community. We also promised to let our parents and community know if we had an outbreak of the virus in any of our schools. Of course, we cannot share the names of a specific staff or student, but we will do our best to keep our community informed. It is also important to note that we are not always notified if a staff member or student has tested positive. This would be especially true over the summer because they are under no obligation to contact us if they test positive. The following is a summary of what we know at this point.
We have discovered that a staff member at Alpha has tested positive for the virus. This individual helped with kindergarten orientation and Jumpstart. We also discovered a spouse of a staff member at Hillcrest Elementary tested positive last week. This staff member has been tested, but the results are not back at this time. A spouse of a Fairview-Marguerite Elementary teacher tested positive, but the staff member was negative. This staff member helped with kindergarten registration. All of these tests were discovered after registration, and they may not have been infected at that time. To my knowledge, all staff members wore masks during all interactions with students. However, I would also think that staff members were within six feet of students for part of this time because they had to conduct individual assessments. We have no knowledge of any infection from orientation or Jumpstart but wanted to keep our community informed.
We had one staff member test positive at East Ridge who helped to train parents on using Google Classroom. This individual may or may not have been infected at that time, but anyone attending the very last session should monitor their health conditions. It is my understanding that our staff members wore masks and maintained social distance during the training. Parents may want to monitor for signs of the virus or have their children tested if they are concerned. In addition, we have had a few other staff members test positive, but they have had virtually no contact with the community. Fortunately, the vast majority of our staff are showing few signs and are recovering quickly.
Finally, we had two staff members test positive from ESP (daycare) last week. We notified all ESP parents of these results. To our knowledge, no students have tested positive throughout the entire summer at ESP. It may be possible these staff members were infected outside of ESP.
3. There have been some individuals within the community attempt to specifically identify where staff members became infected. These individuals have also stated the district has been irresponsible with certain events which have led to these infections. These individuals have pointed to staff development activities at school, graduation, and the prom as being the source of the initial infection. Virtually every health official has acknowledged that our infection has become “community spread” which means the infection is coming from a number of sources. It would be impossible at this point to identify a single source. Infection could have originated from vacation travels, church, trips to Walmart or the grocery store, visits from friends/relatives, from work, from college children, from spouses, etc. It is irresponsible to identify a single source or person from which the virus originated at this point.
It is also important to point out that the school district’s infection rate is no higher than the community. Again, some individuals have attempted to exaggerate this issue. We have approximately a dozen staff members who have tested positive. We have about 1,300 staff members employed by the district. The infection rate for the county is about 1.8% while the school district is less than 1%. We have a number of interactions with the community, and we could be at a higher risk than many other organizations. The numbers would seem to indicate that we have actually done a good job protecting our staff and the wellbeing of those we serve. Certain individuals have attempted to make it look as if we have been negligent, but the facts seem not to support those contentions. Being open and transparent is not always the easiest route because there will be those who use the information in a negative way; however, we will continue with this concept to ensure the community can have faith in us.
4. Regardless of the percentages, our infection rate throughout the county is extremely high. We must all do our part to help stop the growing infection rate in our community. As one of the largest employers in the county, we have responded to the increased threat of infection by implementing a series of actions. We are now requiring the wearing of face masks when at school and have asked everyone to maintain appropriate social distancing. In the past, we recommended the use of masks (much like the majority of the county), but now we are requiring them to help reduce the spread of the virus. In addition, we are attempting to conduct all meetings virtually so that staff members do not have to meet in person unless it is necessary. We are requesting that staff members notify us if they test positive so we can help determine if they came in contact with anyone in the community. We will notify the community if such a contact was made. It is clear we are not perfect, and we will make a number of mistakes as we move through these challenging times. However, we will continue to evaluate the situation and modify our procedures to increase the safety margins for staff and students.
5. The governor made an announcement this week which basically opened up the possibility of having contact sports this fall. This would primarily involve football and soccer. Unfortunately, this announcement did not address a wide range of safety concerns which create a number of challenges for those who have to implement this decision.
Virtually every superintendent across the state wants our student athletes to have the opportunity to participate in football and soccer. They have worked hard to be able to compete, and we want to give them those opportunities. However, there are a number of health issues associated with having contact sports, and we must ensure our student athletes are safe before we have competitions. All of the superintendents in east Tennessee have been meeting virtually every week since we closed school in March. We met on Wednesday to discuss the Governor’s announcement and the impact it would have on our school districts. We have asked the regional athletic directors to provide us with a recommendation on how we could safely have contact sports this fall. We are meeting again on Monday to consider these recommendations and to determine if we can create a viable plan which will allow football and soccer to be played this fall. We will have more information next week which we will share with the community.
I was one of the co-captains of my high school football team, and I loved playing the game. I was not a great athlete, but I loved the game and it helped me grow in so many different ways. I coached football when I was a teacher, and I saw the positive things the game provided for our student athletes. For many, it was the only thing that kept them in school. I have also seen the pride and enjoyment that parents/grandparents experience when they see their children play underneath the lights. I want our students to have that experience, but I want them to be safe more than anything else. We must work out many details before we can turn on the lights and invite the community to football/soccer competitions. We will have additional information next week.
Thanks for your attention to this article and remember, School Matters!
-Dr. Jeff Perry is the superintendent of Hamblen County schools.