Perry releases detailed plan on protocols of schools reopening

Dr. Jeff Perry, Hamblen County school superintendent, released a detailed summary Monday evening, detailing the protocols of schools reopening on July 31.

Two letters, sent out to parents, explain how the district will handle safety concerns, transportation, classroom learning and school closures.

Perry said in the letter he came up with the plan after hearing from the community.

“We have heard from a number of parents and community members who are not hesitant to share their thoughts on specific protocols on how to open school,” Perry said. “We appreciate those comments because it helps to formulate thoughts and planning.”

Perry stressed that the protocols released are just a draft and still subject to change, depending upon community feedback. The Hamblen County school system current has a survey on the Hamblen County Department of Education web site to gather more information.

The school guidelines come as COVID-19 continues to spread across the United States.

The proposed protocols, listed in the plan are:

• School opening: The school opening will go on as planned on July 31. The school system plans to follow the current school calendar.

• Facemasks: Facemasks will be optional and encouraged. Perry said it was deemed impossible for the school system to hand out 10,000 face masks a day and knowing smaller children would not wear the masks properly.

• Transportation: Buses will run as normal. Federal and state guidelines ask that more buses be run to facilitate social distancing, but Perry said it is not feasible that the school system buys new buses and hires more drivers. The hope is that more parents will drive their children to school. There will be assigned seating and social distancing as much as possible. Buses will also undergo constant disinfecting.

• Cleaning: There will be daily disinfecting and more. Perry said the primary responsibility of custodians, at this time, will be to clean thoroughly. Students, staff and administration will be expected to take part in cleaning as well.

• Breakfast and lunch: Meals will be pre-packaged and go to a hallway or classroom to eat. There will be limited seated in dining areas. Some students will be able to eat in the dining hall in order to social distance.

• Controlling groups of students: Students will be dispersed inside schools and outside to prevent large gatherings. There will be alternative class dismissals to prevent hallways from being crowded and, when possible, lockers will be spaced out.

• Taking temperatures: Students will have their temperatures taken before they enter schools. The school system will also train some students to take temperatures on buses to assist the drivers. Anyone with a temperature over 100 degrees will be sent back home.

• Visitors: The number of visitors to school will be limited. Homemade food, such as cupcakes or treats, will not be accepted and will have to be prepackaged from the store. The school system asks most people conduct business over the phone.

• Transitions: The school system plans to try and keep intermingling between students at a minimum. Students will also remain in one classroom and teachers will rotate to keep the possibility of COVID-19 transmission lower.

• Personal hygiene: Students will be educated on the need for personal hygiene. Students will be given multiple opportunities for handwashing and using sanitizers.

• Typical classroom numbers: The school system will attempt to limit classroom size to 15 students at the start of school. Classroom numbers may grow, depending upon health conditions.

• School closures: Closures can happen a number of ways. Perry said there could be classroom closures, grade level closures, school closures or district closures. All closures will be conducted due to the amount of students who test positive for COVID-19. In each of these closures, Staff and students will be asked to quarantine for 10 days.

• Online instruction: Upon a district closure, online instruction will be conducted. The school system will also offer online class instruction to some students. The district started registration for online learning Monday. Anyone who would like their child to continue online learning is asked to register and those students will not be bouncing back from online to traditional classroom education. The school system has purchased 2,000 computers to help with online learning and hope to be able to distribute. But, because of supply lines hampered due to the virus, those computers may not get to the district by July 31. The district encourages backup plans.

• Athletics: The school district plans to try and go forward with fall sports and are currently awaiting more guidelines from the TSSAA, who oversees high school sports. Athletes who tested positive will be asked to quarantine for 10 days.

• Water fountains: The school district will discourage the use of water fountains for individual drinking. Students will be asked to bring clear water bottles to school and fill them up using the water fountain.

• Notifications: Parents will be notified when a student or staff member has tested positive within a school. The school system will maintain a record of cases on the school web site.

Perry said he asks for the community to review the plan and give feedback. The school system will then make necessary modifications and finalize the plan.

Perry said he knows there is no perfect plan. He said he has heard many in the community tell him, “I would hate to be in your shoes right now!”

“It is difficult to be in any leadership position during this time,” Perry said. “However, we cannot be paralyzed by fear, which results in no action.”