JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) -With the 2020-2021 school year only about a month away, school districts have been busy constructing and releasing their plans on how to return to classes safely with the ongoing pandemic.
Johnson City Schools released its re-entry plan last week. The plan touches on the protocols for in-person learning and also outlines the community spread and school operation scenarios.
The 25-page detailed document states on page 11 that the school system’s decision to remain open or to close at any time will be evaluated through threshold criteria.
A ‘substantial spread’, which in the document is defined as an average of 11 or more new COVID cases among Washington County residents in the last 14 days would be grounds for considering a school closure. This is one of the many issues addressed in a petition that’s currently circulating online.
The petition was started by Danielle Goodrich, a parent of children at Johnson City Schools. Goodrich said the thresholds being considered for closing the schools in her opinion is far too low.
“Where are they getting these thresholds from? Our area is less population-dense, has a much lower reproduction rate or rate of spread. In large cities, the rate of spread is 1:5. But as reported by Governor Lee the rate of the spread here is more a 1:1. So why is our area being rated a moderate threat? Why are we going back to school with the same guidelines as a district with a larger population, higher rate of spread? It doesn’t make sense,” she said.
Feeling strongly about this, she started the petition only to find out that a number of other parents of students at Johnson City Schools feel the same way. “I’m really concerned about the environment that they’re going to be attending if they open back up. I really don’t want my children to be in an environment that’s sectioned off and quarantined off,” said Angel Marrero.
Marrero is the father of two boys, who he says need socialization and a normal on-campus school experience. With the potential for masks, social distancing, and barriers in place this school year, he said he is considering the online option offered by the district but said that opens up another list of concerns.
The petition also cites studies regarding the dangers of children in this age group wearing masks. Goodrich also posed concerns for teaches who are supposed to be enforcing these guidelines in the Fall.
“We don’t want our children to be in masks, we don’t think it’s going to be a good environment for teachers to have to enforce, we think that trying to keep children 6 feet apart is unrealistic and it’s not healthy,” said Goodrich.
In the petition, Goodrich writes that “the negative emotional implications of socially distancing children, the health effects of over sterilizing, the repercussions of limiting interaction with germs and peers as both are necessary for health, are placing our children in a position for more health detriments than the virus itself.”
While there are concerns about children getting sick at school, parents like Bridget Cheek said these fears existed far before the Coronavirus. “We all have concerns about our children getting sick. I don’t want mine getting sick or any others but there are other viruses and there are other things that they can get as well,” said Cheek. For that reason, she believes kids should just be able to return to classes normally.
Christina Maiden who is both a parent of children in Johnson City Schools and a teacher in Washington County Schools said she understands going back to school from both perspectives. In fact, News Channel 11 spoke with Maiden when these guidelines were originally released. Then and now she stands in favor of bringing kids back to the classroom. However, after reading the guidelines, she does agree that this can be tough for children. She said every teacher needs to do their part to make this a good experience for the kids.
“We need to be inventive on what we can do but the kids need to be in school and I think we need to do whatever we can,” said Maiden. Maiden said she spoke with her principal about their responsibilities as teachers to clean the classrooms and even is coming up with plans to help her kids be social while staying safe. During her interview, she mentioned bringing in clear barriers that would allow the kids to be closer but not spread germs.
As of Monday afternoon, the petition has over 100 signatures and growing. We reached out to Johnson City Schools for comment on the petition and they issued this statement:
“We are aware, through social media, of such petition. As with any feedback regarding the re-entry plan, we will review once officially submitted to our district. The plan will continue to evolve as we receive updates from the CDC and regional and state health department officials. We will review any feedback regarding the re-entry plan.”
-Dr. Debra Bentley, Johnson City Schools Spokesperson
As far as the goal of this petition, Goodrich and other parents who don’t necessarily agree with the district’s plan said they would like the board to consider this petition and appeal the current back to school guidelines for Johnson City Schools.