Hawkins to open schools on Aug. 4

As of Wednesday’s Hawkins County Board of Education meeting, Hawkins County Schools plans to be open on Aug. 4.

As with anything related to COVID 19, however, that is subject to change.

Director of Schools Matt Hixson presented a detailed plan on how the system will operate as the new reality of a COVID-19 world happens. Wednesday’s meeting was to approve that plan that Hixson developed in cooperation with the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Office in Johnson City.

“These are decisions that we didn’t take lightly,” Hixson said. “We spent four and a half weeks on these plans. They’re not perfect, no plan is. This plan provides us a framework from which to add to if needed. That was our goal. I don’t want to back us into any corner that prevents us from being flexible. We’re open to continued input. A lot of the ideas came from the parents.

“We need to partner with parents for any plan to be successful, but more so now,” Hixson said.

“We’re all in this together, folks,” Chairman Chris Christian said. “This board, administration, students, parents. The decisions we have to make are not very easy to make. We’ve got to move forward. Options have been put into place. A commitment for our system to work with the parents for the safety and educational concern of our students. I think that speaks volumes.”

The plan passed 6-0.

The first two and a half days of school will be spent walking each class through the new policies and for parent communication, Hixson said.

The Plan

Hixson said that schools operation will be determined based on community spread of COVID-19:

• Zero to minimal defined as very few, if any, active COVID-19 cases locally, with minimal spread. Less than 10 active new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 county residents over the last 14 day rolling average period (or as identified by school site).

• Minimal to moderate spread is increasing with a significant amount of circulating disease in the given geographic area. 10 or more active new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 county residents over the last 14 day period (or as identified by school site).

• Substantial expected spread is when case counts in Hawkins County have increased or accelerated rapidly, spread is significant, or a complete shutdown of the community is activated. Substantial amount of new cases of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 c0ounty residents over the last 14 day period (or as identified by school site).

Hixson also said that school leaders will continue to have weekly discussions with local public health officials to determine the level of spread, any trends under observation and whether there are plans to change the system’s operational phase status. HCS leaders will then clearly communicate the level of community spread as well as factors used to make any necessary adjustments each week.

Additionally, there will be 110 more slots in the Hawkins County Virtual Academy for a total of 150 online students.

The system will operate on three phases, based on pandemic scenarios and manifestation of community spread, the report continued.

Green Level: Schools will remain open, operating as normal with general safety precautions in place. Class sizes would remain at normal levels with all students and staff practicing social distancing and self-care.

Yellow Level: Schools will be forced to alter educational models to include a remote/in-person hybrid learning scenario. Half of the students would come into classrooms on Mondays and Tuesdays, working with all students remotely on Wednesdays while all schools are deep cleaned, with the remaining half of students coming to class on Thursdays and Fridays.

Under the Yellow Level, all desks would be arranged facing the front of the classroom with as much space between them as possible. In cases, such as kindergarten, where there are tables instead of individual desks seating up to four students, two students would be seated to allow for better social distancing. Students should either wear masks, use a physical barrier to the side of desks or distance students six feet apart. Teachers should try to maintain six feet of spacing between themselves and students as much as possible, but wear masks if closer than six feet. Large scale assemblies of more than 50 students would be discontinued.

Flow of foot traffic will be in one direction as much as possible. Halls can also be divided with either side following the same direction. Efforts will also be made for people to keep six feet apart. Staggered movements at incremental levels should be used if feasible to minimize number of persons in hallways. Student face masks are encouraged, but will be left up to personal/parent choice.

Red Level: Schools would be closed to students and would be closed for subsequent school/community-based closures. In this scenario, the remote learning plan would be implemented, consisting of all teachers teaching students remotely in live sessions where possible.

“In a perfect world, if (COVID-19) gets worse, we’re able to open on Green and we’re able to spend a couple of weeks getting things situated to get the students to know their teachers and know our expectations. If something happens, we’re set and we can roll with the punches as they come,” Hixon said.

In the initial survey to parents sent out earlier this summer, Hixson said that 11 percent of parents are concerned about returning to school.

“If we’re going to sign up students for the virtual academy, we want them to commit to a semester because we’re paying for those resources,” Hixson said. “The (coursework) is very, very rigorous and it’s not for everybody.”

Parents with concerns should contact the school site or the central office.

Student Screenings

Green Level: Student temperature screenings will be conducted upon entry only. No unscheduled visitors will be allowed. Parents will check students’ temperatures at home each morning using oral, tympanic or temporal scanners. Students with a 100.4 temperature or above should stay home and consider COVID-19 testing. Parents should ask their children to monitor for any cough, congestion, shortness of breath or gastrointestinal symptoms every morning. Student should be kept at home if a positive COVID-19 test is diagnosed until they have completely recovered or have tested negative.

Yellow Level: Students are allowed to enter the building at only one or two sites and must leave from other exits to keep traffic moving in the same direction. Parents will not be allowed to enter the school except extenuating circumstances. When entering, parents will wash or sanitize their hands prior to entering, practice social distancing and wear masks. One parent per child will be allowed to enter the school. Strict records, including day and time, will be kept of non-school employees entering and exiting the school. Students who develop fevers will be sent to the school nurse with those falling ill at school placed in a quarantined area with a mask. Those getting sick will stay home until they have completely recovered.

Dining

Green Level: Students, teachers and staff wash their hands before and after each meal with activities continuing under normal operating procedure.

Yellow Level: Along with hand washing before and after meals, classrooms will be used for eating in place. If cafeterias need to be used, mealtimes will be staggered to create seating arrangements with distance between students. Cafeterias will use barrier protection, including gloves, face sheets and/or masks. Open selection of salad bars and self-serve stations will either be closed or manned by an adult to avoid multiple surface touches.

Red Level: Offsite food programs, including curbside/pickup if waivers allow.

Gatherings, Extracurricular Activities

Green Level: Students and teachers will wash hands before and after each event. Extracurricular activities and gatherings will be conducted, including after-school programs.

Yellow Level: Assemblies of more than 50 students are allowed only with safeguards in place. Parents or grandparents will not be allowed to attend these assemblies, but schools will offer telecasting of events if able. Off-site field trips will not be allowed. Inter-and after-school programs may be discontinued if community transmission rates rises consistently.

Red Level: All activities are closed.

Athletic Activities

Green Level: All activities are allowed to continue per normal procedures with spectator events allowed per normal procedures.

Yellow Level: Only sports that can be modified to allow physical distancing for conditioning would be allowed to continue, preferably outside. Off-site, inter-school competitions may be held. Face masks are encouraged. Fewer than 50 spectators will be allowed provided that face masks are encouraged by observers at all times. Large-scale spectator events with more than 50 people will not be allowed, with activities to be discontinued should community transmission rise consistently. Students, teachers, and staff will wash hands before and after every practice or event. Weight room and physical conditioning activities should only be used with proper social distancing. Locker rooms and group changing areas will be closed unless there is proper social distancing.

Red Level: All athletics will be suspended.

Cleaning

Green: Frequently touched surfaces, including lights, doors, benches, bathrooms and so forth, will undergo cleaning with an EPA-approved disinfectant daily. Libraries, computer labs, arts, and other hands-on classrooms will undergo cleaning with an EPA-approved disinfectant daily. There will be minimized sharing of materials between students as able. Student desks will be wiped down with an EPA-approved disinfectant daily. Playground and athletic equipment will be cleaned with an EPA-approved disinfectant daily. Staff will wear gloves, mask, and face shield when performing all cleaning activities.

Yellow: Surfaces will be cleaned in an increased frequency, at least two times a day. Student desks will be wiped down with an EPA-approved disinfectant at the beginning and end of each day.

Red: Schools closed and cleaning procedures adjusted to maintain school buildings in clean, disinfected and well-functioning order.

Busing

Green: Normal operations with no changes in schedules or seating patterns on buses.

Yellow: Face masks are encouraged to be worn by all staff and students at all times. Windows should be open when possible. Unloading of buses at school should be staggered to minimize mixing of students as they enter school and to allow social distancing while entering through designated entry points. Seats and handrails should be wiped down with an EPA-approved disinfectant before and after each ride.

Red: All busing operations are suspended.

Medically Vulnerable

Students and Staff

Green: All students and staff are able to attend school and activities normally and may choose to self-identify as having a high-risk medical condition to school staff for planning purposes in event of an outbreak.

Yellow: High-risk staff will be asked to teach lessons remotely. If able, any high-risk teacher should also be made aware of additional protective equipment options and alternative assignments. Parents may elect to keep children with underlying health conditions at home and pursue education through remote learning with individual decisions to attend school in person to be left up to parents, students and staff.

Red: All teaching will be moved to video conferencing platforms.

Instructional Protocols

Green: Normal operations. If students are sent home for more than one day, work will be provided for home or a device will be checked out to the student for access of classroom instruction as appropriate.

Yellow: A hybrid instructional model including teachers being present five days a week, teaching lessons in classrooms. Students divided into two groups with Group A on campus on Monday and Tuesday and Group B on campus Thursday and Friday. Students with siblings will be kept together on the same schedule. Students will also be checked out devices for virtual learning. All schools will be deep cleaned on Wednesdays.

Red: All learning will be moved to remote and video conferencing platforms. Students in grades K-2, as well as special needs and Tier III intervention students will continue in-person instruction with transportation provided if all possible. All instructional accommodations and interventions will be based on each student’s Individual Educational Plan and will reflect the IEP team’s decisions. Teachers will teach from their classrooms or from their homes during the regular instructional times. Lessons will be recorded and archived to allow for access by students residing in more remote areas.

Thanks to COVID-19 CARES Act funding, schools will receive Wi-Fi hotspots to be established and maintained at all schools for download/upload of all materials by those who do not have ready access to the Internet.