Kingsport BOE: First day of school now Aug. 10, undecided if it will be in-person or online

Keeping Schools Safe

KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) — The Kingsport Board of Education decided to push back the start of the school year from Aug. 3 to Aug. 10.

“In light of your discussion and in light of the need to get clarity on where we’re heading on a calendar standpoint and give staff time to prepare, we are presenting you a calendar revision,” said Kingsport City Schools Assistant Superintendent Andy True. “That would leave us with 173 instructional days, 12 in-service days, 5 [administrative] and we are looking at four potentially pre-approved snow days.”

However, board members postponed making a decision on whether school will start back with students in classrooms or if classes will be held virtually. The meeting fell on the heels of Governor Bill Lee issuing guidance for school reopening.

“Part of the frustration of both the board and the administration of the schools has been the pace of materials and the change of guidelines that have come through the pipeline,” said the Board’s President, Jim Welch.

Even the superintendent who is on the Governor’s COVID-19 Child Wellbeing Task Force wanted more time to review the issuance.

“I don’t feel comfortable putting something before you without having a chance to review what those recommendations are from the governor’s office versus our opening plan,” said superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Moorhouse.

The school board heard from Sullivan County Health Department officials before unanimously deciding to push back the start date.

“If you are in the building, basic safety measures need to be in place. So, that includes the six-foot distancing, that includes masking, that includes aggressive cleaning protocols, that includes sanitizing everyone’s hands as they change locations,” said Regional Medical Director Dr. Stephen May. “That includes controlling ingress and egress- how students enter the building. That includes controlling outsiders coming into the building that could potentially be carrying COVID. That includes daily screening.”

May wouldn’t comment on whether or not he thought students should be in school.

“All these measures are important containment of the disease within the building,” May said. “How you incorporate that into the operation, how you run the schools is more on the school side.”

Board members were also able to ask questions about Sullivan County’s numbers and testing.

“We had discussed looking at removing congregate setting clusters from that data but right now it is not making any significant difference. The main thrust is community spread of disease,” Dr. May said. “[Children] are capable of spreading the disease and we know children can be great spreaders both because of hygiene and with the fact that they may be asymptomatic spreaders.”

Ten people called in to the meeting during the public comment section, most of whom asked for school to start back in person.

“I feel like my kids are being punished because both their parents work,” said mom and Nurse Practitioner, Shannon Jones. “Since both my husband and I work outside the home and my kids need childcare, not allowing a face to face option would be detrimental to my children’s education.”

A Dobyns-Bennett teacher also addressed the board. “I believe the Kingsport City School board needs to leave politics out of their decision although I understand you have to follow state regulations,” said Cindy McGuire.

The BOE is expected to have another called meeting to address how schools will reopen. The board meets with health officials every Thursday and announces plans for the following week on Friday.

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