School districts ‘cautiously optimistic’ as student and staff COVID cases drop

Keeping Schools Safe

KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – School administrators are pleased with a drop in student and staff COVID-19 cases and quarantines. But that means some districts are mulling potential changes to district policies.

Data from the Tennessee Department of Health indicates new cases among Northeast Tennessee 5-18 year-olds is down 78 percent from one month ago.

On Tuesday, Kingsport City Schools could see a change in their mask requirement. The Board of Education will vote to extend or end the district’s mask mandate that includes a parental opt-out.

Kingsport Assistant Superintendent Andy True said the past few weeks have been promising for the district.

“We’re cautiously optimistic about where our numbers are right now,” True said. “More students are in school, and that helps us better address our goals from an educational standpoint.”

Halfway through October, the district has reported just 55 total COVID cases, compared to 577 in August and 297 in September.

Kingsport schools do not report district quarantines on their website, but True said quarantines and isolations are also down significantly.

True said he does not know what the board could decide Tuesday night, but said they will hear an update on district and area COVID rates.

He said Kingsport plans to continue district-wide policies like social distancing when possible and sanitization regardless of the board’s vote.

“Those types of things, I think we would want to continue at this point,” True said. “Those operational steps are a little different than those policy steps.”

One area school district has already lowered some of its mitigation strategies.

After not reporting a single case all of last week, Bristol, Virginia Public Schools eliminated student temperature checks and visitor vaccination requirements.

“Now that we’re seeing those numbers decrease not only in our communities, but especially in our schools, we’re peeling those new mitigations back,” Bristol, Virginia Superintendent Keith Perrigan said.

Bristol, Virginia Schools will continue universal masking, per state requirement.

In Washington County, Tennessee Schools, Superintendent Jerry Boyd said the district’s mask policy, which also includes a parental opt-out, should continue until the school board votes on its extension in January.

Boyd said the mandate, along with other mitigation strategies, has worked well for the school. He did not expect any changes to the policy prior to the January vote.

“We don’t want to be overoptimistic about the numbers,” Boyd said. “We don’t want to repeat what happened when we had a lull in the Summer. We came back and everyone’s in the building. We had that surge.”

Tuesday’s Kingsport Board of Education meeting starts at 6 p.m.

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