Jefferson schools prepping for return of students

Shane Johnston, director of Jefferson County schools, said plans are in place for students to safely start school at the end of next week.

“We will certainly be ready to host our students,” Johnston said.

Jefferson County moved its start back a few days like several other schools within the Lakeway Area, but he said he did not see the possibility of that date shifting back any further.

The school system will be offering an in-school option, along with online distance learning, and all students who have signed up for online distance learning are equipped at this time with either laptops or iPads, he said.

Jefferson County will be one of the first schools to reopen in the Lakeway Area after Hamblen County schools moved its starting date back from July 31 to Sept. 8 due to several teachers and staff testing positive for COVID-19. At the same time, Cocke County has announced it is delaying its reopening until Aug. 17 after its first day was supposed to be Aug. 3.

The reopening will be the first since March when schools statewide closed after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee asked that school systems close their doors in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Hawkins and Grainger counties are slated to open on Aug. 10 and Grainger will be utilizing a staggered schedule.

Johnston acknowledged that most districts will have their own reopening plans that could be different and he said there will have to be some flexibility once school reopens.

Students from grades 6-12 will be required to wear masks and socially distance. Other grades will be highly encouraged to wear masks.

He said one good point for Jefferson County schools is that three years ago the school system equipped all students from grades 6-12 with laptops. He said right now there are enough laptops to also equip grades 3-5. He said kindergarten-second grade will be equipped with iPads.

He said the iPads had been ordered and have arrived and are going through processing at this time.

Johnston said he felt that if the entire school system had to go to online only then the school system would be ready to equip all students with technology by the start of September.

So far, there have been more than 1,400 students sign up for online distance learning, he said. The school system averages around 7,000 students per year. He said 560 elementary students have signed up for online, while the rest is high school and middle school students.

One response he said is available is the instructor being able to teach from home if needed. He said if a teacher has tested positive and is well enough to still teach, they will be able to teach from home. The same is if a teacher is quarantined due to being in contact with a person who has been infected.

He said the school system will also provide training to parents who have students opting to do distance learning. He said training for that will occur between Aug. 7-14.

Johnston said there is no metric at this time for if the district would need to close due to a spike of COVID-19 cases. He said they have options available for classroom, grade level, school or district closing due to the situation. He said right now the biggest thing is leaning on advice from the health department.

“There will be a learning curve for all of us,” he said.