COVID in the classroom: School district leaders comment on quarantine cases across NE TN

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TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) – COVID-19 in the classroom might be a greater concern this year compared to last since the Delta variant is rampantly spreading among the younger population.

Schools across the Tri-Cities are already starting to feel the impacts of this new variant, just a few weeks into the start of the academic year.

Districts have been publicly monitoring and displaying positive cases throughout their school systems as well as quarantine and isolation cases.

Just this week, one of the largest quarantines took place for a 6th-grade hallway at Indian Ridge Intermediate School within the Johnson City School system.

73 students that make up three different classes are now learning at home for at least the next 14 days. It’s a common story across Northeast Tennessee as cases continue to rise.

Washington County Tennessee Schools is one of the only districts that displays quarantine case numbers.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 366 students and 23 faculty were quarantined, totaling 389 people impacted by the virus.

Kingsport City Schools are also seeing quarantine and isolation cases and revealed to News Channel 11 that 319 students in their district are now learning from home. However, what does learning from home now look like? According to Washington County Tennessee and Kingsport City Schools officials, it’s not much different than their regular curriculum.

Younger students, typically in elementary school, are typically given a work packet during their stay at home.

“It usually contains the materials that they would typically use in the classroom and then we also, for the older grade, send a device home if a parent requests it or if they already have a device at home because all of our curricula is available via online, so students can keep up with the work there,” said Kingsport City Schools Asst. Superintendent of Curriculum, Rhonda Stringham.

It’s the same case for students in Washington County Tennessee Schools.

“Based on circumstances, we also know that we have to be prepared to provide supports and supplement the time that they might not be able to access in-person learning,” said Washington County TN Director of Schools, Jerry Boyd.

Boyd said they’ve been on top of notifying parents of positive cases in the classroom, but they’re always looking to improve in any way they can.

Jacob Finkle, a parent of a Washington County Tennessee Kindergartner said he recently developed more worries when he learned of a positive case within his child’s after-school program run by the district. He was surprised and upset that parents were not notified and worries what a positive exposure could mean for the health of his child and those around him.

“Now I’m scared to take my kid to see my parents or grandparents because I don’t want to risk the getting exposed even though they’ve been vaccinated, we just don’t know,” said Finkle.

Finkle contacted the school district and told News Channel 11 that the school district has returned his call stating they will address the matter and expand contact tracing methods to the after-school programs as well.

However, the lack of masks in class does worry Finkle. “If he does end up having to go into quarantine, I don’t know what I’m going to do for my job because I’ll have to stop working to be able to be home with them but at the same time, if that’s what we have to do to keep them safe, then that’s what we need to do,” he said.

According to the latest CDC guidance released in July, Dr. Stephen May, the Director of the Sullivan County Health Department, said there is a way for all students to avoid ever having to go into quarantine.

“If both individuals, the case, and the student are both effectively masked up, then they are also exempt from quarantine, but at present, no one is wearing masks,” said Dr. May.

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