Tri-Cities school systems transition to virtual learning amid COVID-19 surge among students and staff

Keeping Schools Safe

(WJHL) — Some Tri-Cities school systems have decided they will remain online until Christmas vacation due to the surge in coronavirus cases in their respective school systems.

News Channel 11’s Pheben Kassahun spoke with school leaders on how the transition will look like.

School systems like Unicoi County wrapped up in-person learning for the remainder of the semester, to avoid COVID-19 spreading in their schools.

“It started building over Thanksgiving break. Each day of the break, I was getting 4 or 5 calls. From principals,” Unicoi County Schools Director of Schools John English said. “Our numbers within the staff were really starting to pick up,”

The weekend of Thanksgiving, English learned the number of students and staff in quarantine was growing. According to English, about 100 students and 36 teachers are in quarantine or isolation.

“We still had a very large number of students and families who wanted to be in school and their kids needed to be in school. [For] working families, being in virtual creates tremendous hardships,” English said.

English said it was a hard decision to make because 70% of families chose in-person learning this semester.

“We’ve provided all of our students a device. Our third graders through 12th graders have Chromebooks. We’ve actually ordered those for our first and second graders, but we’re waiting, but they have iPads,” he said.

At Rogersville City School, more than 40 students and 15 staff members are quarantined or have COVID-19.

Rogersville Director of Schools JT Stroder said: “Close to Christmas break, the positivity rate in Hawkins County is really high, and we just decided that it would be wise to go ahead and stay virtual to at least give our kids some consistency and hope that we can make it to the holiday and a vaccine will be available then.”

All 650 students have devices.

Stroder said: “Some of our teachers actually team teach, so they’ll combine our classes and one of our teachers will actually teach the lesson through Zoom, while the other teachers monitors chat, monitors students and then they’ll swap.”

Students in both districts are set to return to in-person learning Tuesday, January 5, 2021.

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