Science Hill, Liberty Bell in-person students to return to school five days a week after fall break

Keeping Schools Safe

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Science Hill High School and Liberty Bell Middle School students who are enrolled in the in-person learning pathway will attend school in-person five days a week beginning Oct. 12, Johnson City School announced Sept. 23.

That follows the school district’s fall break.

Science Hill and Liberty Bell students have been on a hybrid schedule since the end of August. PreK–6th-grade students who are enrolled in in-person learning returned to school Aug. 31.

Citing success with the younger set and a far-from-ideal situation with hybrid classes, Superintendent Steve Barnett said the time was right to extend full in-person at the secondary level.

“It’s a successful model that we feel like will also and believe will be successful seven through 12,” Barnett said. New case numbers have flattened, and the K-6 schools have shown they can isolate cases and at-risk staff and students — successfully preventing outbreaks.

Barnett said there’s been a wide difference in learning between the days students are in class and the days they’re trying to learn from home.

“The part that’s been successful are the two days that the students are in class with their teachers,” he said. “That flow of thought that goes on in a classroom that just doesn’t occur as well when you’re not in person. That’s a big driver for this.”

Barnett said he appreciated parents’ patience as the system’s leaders watched the numbers and consulted with the regional health department. Announcing the change now will give teachers and parents time to prepare for the change.

“People want us to do it but they want us to do it safely,” Barnett said. That includes a continuation of a mask mandate for students, with limited breaks outside and an exception for eating.

“There have been systems that have tried doing optional (masks), but what that does, it sends a mixed message to our students and to our faculty and staff and it becomes very inconsistent,” Barnett said. “According to our health department officials, they said that can lead to having more positive cases and spread of COVID in your school system.”

Barnett cited two main reasons for secondary schools waiting longer for in-person. First, he said, younger students are even more at risk of learning loss and academic difficulty in a remote setting.

Those elementary schoolers also spend their school days around a smaller circle of fellow students and teachers than secondary students, who circulate throughout the building to different classes.

The option for full remote learning, which was utilized by 29 percent of students during the current nine-week period, will remain available through at least the end of the calendar year.

And Barnett cautioned that social distancing, masks and other COVID-inspired changes may be around awhile.

“Our goal is to keep our schools open, keep students in classrooms learning, teachers at school safely, teaching and continuing through the school year. And we’ll be doing this for some time to come I think.”

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