KCS switches to hybrid learning following increase in COVID-19 cases in Kingsport

Keeping Schools Safe

KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – Following a weekly meeting with the Sullivan County Regional Health Department, Kingsport City Schools officials have decided to shift some students back to a hybrid schedule.

The new schedule is set to take effect on Tuesday, October 20 following the return from fall break. The schedule will divide students grades 6-12 into two groups determined by their last name.

District officials notified parents of this change on their website, through email, and on the phone. The release states in part:

“We have said that we will make our decisions based on our weekly guidance from the Sullivan County Regional Health Department. Based on that discussion earlier today (Thursday) and looking at the large increase of COVID-19 spread throughout Kingsport, the decision has been made to pull face-to-face students in grades six through twelve back into hybrid operations, using the schedule we did earlier this year. Pre-K and Elementary face-to-face students will continue to attend school using their regular schedule. This change for next week is for students in grades six through twelve only.”

-Kingsport City Schools

While this decision is due to the rise in positive cases in Kingsport, some parents do not agree that this is the right move.

“They want to go to school. They don’t want to go through this again,” said Michelle McMurray, a parent of two Kingsport City Schools students.

McMurray has an 8th grader and a freshman, both of whom prefer in-person learning. She said her son is an honor student and virtual learning hurt his grades the first time around, leading him to fail a few of his classes.

McMurray said she firmly believes in-person learning is the best decision for the kids.

“Once they went back to school, the grades shot back up. My son’s grades were right back up to where they normally are and of course, now my first thought is that we’re going to go through this again,” she said.

She also said she believes that this hybrid schedule won’t truly help the problem and stop the spread.

“Whether they go one day or two days or a full week, you know, they’re still going and they’re still around other people and you don’t know what everyone else is doing, so I feel like the risk is still there,” said McMurray.

While Kingsport City Schools has made this decision, the other two school districts in the county, Sullivan County schools and Bristol Tennessee City Schools, are not altering their schedules as a result of the rise in cases.

Rebecca House with Bristol Tennessee City Schools sent News Channel 11’s Kelly Grosfield this statement:

“Equally as important, we consider students’ academic, social, and emotional needs. As I have said since March, I firmly believe the best place for our students is in our buildings with face-to-face instruction and opportunities for interactions with peers and caring adults. We also have approximately 80% of families who want and/or need our schools to be open. I am committed to providing that opportunity for our students and families as long as public health recommendations provide guidance for us to do so safely. Parents continue to have the choice for remote learning if in-person doesn’t meet their needs at this time. Therefore, we did not decide to make a change to our operational model or protocols. Our health and safety protocols from the time students returned to our buildings have been led by recommendations from public health officials and are the maximum we believe we can reasonably implement to keep kids safe in a school setting.”

-Rebecca House, Bristol Tennessee City Schools

In Sullivan County, Director of Schools David Cox said the original plan following fall break was for middle and high school students to return to in-person classes five days a week.

Following an amendment by the school board last week, that’s been changed to four days in-person with Wednesday being a virtual learning day each week.

In a press conference held Friday, Governor Bill Lee was asked about the safety and spread amongst students, as well as the progress of in-person learning during this pandemic.

“About 10 weeks, I think, into school, in-person learning in some of our districts and some of our schools, a half of 1% of our schools have been closed as a result that has been open in-person. We’ve had really good results with the approach that we took to provide a safe environment for kids,” said Lee.

News Channel 11 reached out to Kingsport City Schools officials regarding more information on their decision to move to hybrid learning and have yet to receive comment.

We also spoke with Dr. Stephen May, the director of the Sullivan County Regional Health Department, regarding the specific rise in cases and the correlation to the decision of Kingsport City Schools.

Dr. May said the number of cases has dramatically increased, not just in Sullivan County, but specifically Kingsport, leading to the decision to make the switch to hybrid learning, while other school districts in the county stick to their original plans.

“51% of all of our cases are coming out of the Kingsport area. So Kingsport is more of a hotspot,” Dr. Stephen May said.

He said that the hybrid schedule will help limit exposure and promote a higher level of social distancing that would not be possible with all students in attendance.

“They’re not together as much and that will decrease the number of cases we have to deal with,” said Dr. May.

The decision to revert back to in-person classes or any other changes to class schedules will be made on a weekly basis following the latest data on cases gathered by the health department, according to Dr. May.

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