Back to School: Some Tri-Cities private schools return to in-person learning with heightened safety measures

Keeping Schools Safe

KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – For students at St. Dominic’s Catholic School in Kingsport, the way they’re returning to the classroom this year is a lot different.

Face shields, temperature checks, masks, and social distancing have become a part of the curriculum but they don’t really seem to mind.

“The proof is in what you see out there. They’re just glad to be back together,” said St. Dominic’s Catholic School Principal, Darlene Lyons.

The hallways at St. Dominic’s are full of laughter with children still interacting with each other but keeping a distance. Masks are worn at all times with the exception of eating. When the students eat lunch, they are spread out and given separate lunchtimes to allow for more spacing and social distancing.

While in the classroom, children can switch to a face-shield rather than a mask as long as they aren’t moving around the classroom. Only two days into this new style of learning and everything seems to be working well.

Lyons told News Channel 11 that an in-person experience is what these kids need. Of their 89 kids, all are back in the classroom with the exception of 11 who chose the remote learning route.

With the proper measures in place, Lyons believes this could work the entire school year. “Right now it seems like we’re doing very well. So even though we’re in red, we’re taking all the precautions, our families are taking all the precautions, so as long as that is working out,” she said.

However, she said she has been in constant communication with the Sullivan County Health Department since this all started back in March and safety is their number one priority. If cases spike and it becomes unsafe to continue in the classroom, they’re prepared for that, too.

“All of the platforms that we have taken for this year work beautifully in the classroom and beautifully at home,” said Lyons. They have already purchased Zoom for education which means teachers would be able to seamlessly switch to complete online learning from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. if needed.

At Ashley Academy in Johnson City, staff told News Channel 11 they also plan to return to in-person learning but are operating on a slight delay that allows time for cases to decrease as well as time to finish preparing their new campus.

Headmaster, Ramona Harr, said parents overwhelmingly chose the in-person option following a survey and they are set to start classes in-person again on September 15th.

“Do we take it lightly? Absolutely not. It’s real and it’s happening in our area so we need to be responsible and take care of one another,” said Harr.

As for virtual learning, they plan to have that option available in the event a kid gets sick in general, not just with COVID-19, that way they don’t fall behind.

“We would have an opportunity where virtually they’re able to still keep up with the work, they can connect into the classroom and get that online instruction,” said Harr.

She said they currently have 115 students enrolled and are continuing to enroll more students until classes begin. She said the new campus will easily provide more room for social distancing. Harr also said they are encouraging teachers to be creative by even holding class in their outdoor space to get kids into the fresh air and out of the classroom.

The mid-September start would rid of their Fall break this year and possibly add on a few extra days to the end of the year pending usage of the allotted snow days.

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