Details of August school reopenings still uncertain in Kingsport, Sullivan

Rick Wagner • Jun 14, 2020 at 3:45 PM

How will area Tennessee public schools reopen for in-person learning, or will the 2020-21 school year be online or a mixture of online and in-person?

And will students report to schools in staggered groups to lessen the number of students in the building at any one time?

The jury is still out on all those questions and more.

Although Kingsport, Sullivan County and Hawkins County schools officials said the plan is to open for in-person learning Monday, Aug. 3, they said June is simply too early to say how that would look, a question Sullivan County Director of Schools David Cox said will be answered likely after the county system gets its application for $2.1 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding in by the June 15 deadline. Kingsport City Schools is to get $1.6 million from CARES.

Kingsport Assistant Superintendent of Administration Andy True also said it is simply too early to answer the question but that plans and protocols are being made now, somewhat reflecting the resumption of athletic coaches and teams having limited conditioning and such. In-person graduations for Kingsport are planned for July 17-18, while in the county they are planned for July 31 and Aug. 1, although both plans are dependent on Sullivan County Regional Health Department review. 

The county timeline to move forward with its planned graduation would have to come July 20, Cox and other county school officials said.

“At this time, KCS (Kingsport City Schools) administrators and staff are working on details that best prepare for a variety of scenarios, depending on what the status of health guidance is at the time of our return,” True said. “There are a multitude of details being considered so that students and staff will have the most effective and safest possible learning environment when school starts in the fall.”

In the county system, Sullivan South senior Cole Lane said during a May 1 cap and gown pickup that using Google Classroom for learning has some advantages, such as being able to do your work at your own pace and time, but he said it takes more effort. He said videos and teacher communications help. Fellow South seniors Alexandra “Alex” Harris, McKenzie Littleton and Abbey Jayne said class work online has gone well for them.

And Education Week reported June 3 that some teachers caught up with technology by necessity so they could help students in online learning, something Kingsport Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse said a survey found was the case among 40% of Kingsport teachers.

Looking to the future, the annual Back to School Expo set for late July may or may not be held, True said, depending on public health guidance on public events closer to the scheduled events. However, the city school system has already moved forward with hiring additional custodians and supplies to help with cleaning and disinfecting.

“The 2020-21 KCS budget approved by the Board of Education includes two additional custodians and additional funding ($70,000) for custodial supplies, in anticipation of increased supply costs due to additional cleaning processes,” True said. “Funds from the 2019-20 year are also being utilized to purchase additional equipment that will be used to support cleaning and disinfecting processes across the district.”

Another question not yet answered for sure is whether Plexiglass-type shields will be added to cafeteria and food-service operations in schools as it has been used in grocery stores and other retailers. It is uncertain whether masks and social distancing measures will be required or encouraged.

Amber Anderson, Sullivan County school nutrition supervisor, said that it is possible in the county schools, and True did not rule it out for the city schools.

“Part of the current planning discussions involve how school nutrition services will function, including the process of providing food to students and what the interaction between adults and children will look like,” True said. “Based on the outcome of that discussion, appropriate measures will be taken to modify processes and the physical space in each specific setting to provide the safest possible interactions between students and staff.”

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