WASHINGTON COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – School systems in the Tri-Cities Region are facing high numbers of students and staff members in quarantine or isolation and struggling to find substitute teachers, as COVID-19 cases rise.
As several school systems, including Washington County Schools, have brought students back to the classrooms, officials are trying to figure out how to cover for teachers not physically in the school buildings due to COVID-19 hurdles, and how to keep students physically distanced.
The total number of Washington County, Tennessee students, and faculty or staff quarantined or isolated as of 1:31 p.m. Friday was 757. Of those, 42 were confirmed COVID-19 positive.
“We are having challenges all across our departments, instructional, and support staff,” Washington County, TN, Schools Director of Schools Dr. Bill Flanary said. “We sure are quarantining a lot of people under these very very strict CDC rules.”
With a large number of educators unable to physically go to school, a need for substitute teachers and space are major issues faced by schools locally.
“Our issue is those that are deemed to be close contacts of positive or probable numbers have affected us and greatly so when we have teachers who are deemed to be close contacts that have to go out due to a positive or probably case and we don’t have substitutes to backfill,” Hawkins County Director of Schools Matt Hixson said.
“We are having trouble filling our rosters with good substitute teachers right now,” Flanary added.
The school systems say it’s not the number of positive COVID-19 cases causing the issue, but the number of those in quarantine and isolation, as well as the lack of opportunity to social distance.
“Schools aren’t built for social distancing. Schools are built for people to be shoulder to shoulder engaged in learning and teaching,” Flanary said.
The Tennessee Department Of Health has guidelines for school to follow, including what symptoms force students to be excluded from building and activities.
“We’re starting to see students exhibit symptoms and we’re having to exclude students because of those symptoms but then we’re waiting on test results with some of those based on the algorithm that’s provided by the Tennessee Department of Health,” Greeneville Director of Schools Steve Starnes said. “We’ve made accommodations that our teachers as long as they’re physically able, even if they are excluded or in quarantine to deliver instruction even in the hybrid setting, we still have to have somebody supervise the students in person.”
These obstacles are forcing systems to re-think current plans and work to fill in the gaps from the changes in learning.
“When we have to go virtual or when we have to be hybrid or out of the box instructional delivery options. We feel that we’re not meeting those deficits because of logistics,” Hixson said. “if we don’t bring our rural students into our classrooms, some of them don’t have any access to instruction at all. There’s no internet. There’s no connectivity and so we’re relying heavily on parents, guardians, family members to bring those students to external broadcast wifi locations just to upload and download material and they’re not getting live instruction.”