Kingsport City and Sullivan County Schools to keep start dates for now, will require masks for teachers and students

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SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL)- Leaders for Kingsport City and Sullivan County Schools told News Channel 11 on Tuesday there are no current plans to move back their school start dates. KCS starts August 3rd, and Sullivan County Schools start August 5th. However, the situation is fluid for both school districts as case numbers constantly change.

Other local school districts have pushed starting dates back. On Monday night, Johnson City school board members voted to push the start of classes back from August 3rd to August 10th. Bristol, Tennessee’s school board delayed the start of school by three days, from August 3rd to August 6th.

On Tuesday, Hawkins County Schools announced on Facebook they are pushing the first day back from August 4th to August 10th.

Following the Sullivan County mandate, both Kingsport City and Sullivan County school systems will require students and teachers to wear masks. The mandate applies to anyone over the age of two, with exceptions for those who have difficulty breathing.

Kingsport City Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Moorhouse said masks will be provided for those who don’t have them, but they are on the school supply list.

“We are encouraging our families to go out and secure a mask now. We want to make sure that everybody has access to a mask,” said Moorhouse.

Both school districts are working with the Sullivan County Health Department to develop plans if a student or teacher contracts COVID-19.

Sullivan County Schools Director Dr. David Cox said this will involve contact tracing by the Health Department. Positive cases will not automatically close entire schools.

“Any decisions that we would make about potentially shutting down a classroom, part of a school, or a whole school, those decisions would be made with the Health Department,” said Cox.

Dr. Moorhouse said contacts identified by the Health Department will be asked to self-quaratine.

“Obviously if that happens, there will be some adjustments to our attendance policies that will have to take place,” said Moorhouse.

If a teacher is exposed to COVID-19, Dr. Cox said the Sullivan County school board approved a ‘Critical Infrastructure‘ designation. These are CDC guidelines that identify different levels of exposure and can designate which levels are still appropriate for a teacher to come to school.

Dr. Cox said positive cases among staff would be handled on a case-by-case basis.

“Exposure and having a diagnosis are considered differently. There can be so many different factors going on at the same time. We want to make the best decision to keep everyone safe but keep our schools operating as best we can,” said Cox.

Dr. Moorhouse said KCS is still considering whether to adopt critical infrastructure guidelines and no decisions have been made yet.

“There’s implications that go with [critical infrastructure], good and bad,” said Moorhouse. “We’re reviewing if we need to declare ourselves a critical infrastructure.”

The application to choose the remote learning option for Kingsport City Schools closes Tuesday. Dr. Moorhouse said Tuesday morning that nearly 1,000 of the school system’s approximately 7,500 students had already chosen the virtual option.

Dr. Moorhouse said Kingsport City Schools is not considering a ‘hybrid’ learning model like Sullivan County is in the yellow zone threshold.

With about two weeks to go until the start of school, Moorhouse also stressed that mask-wearing, social distancing, and hand-washing by the entire community could influence how schools are able to open August 3rd.

“The numbers that we’re seeing today are based off of tests that were given a week ago,” he said. “There’s not anything that we can do to influence the numbers that we’re seeing today. If we want to see different numbers in the future, then we’ve got to take actions today.”

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