ROGERSVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – After a wave of COVID-19 quarantines, the director of Hawkins County Schools explained why one of the system’s facilities will remain closed through the week.
Director Matt Hixson told News Channel 11 that the closure of Joseph Rogers Primary School was due to a perfect storm of conditions, with 12-13 ongoing staff quarantines and positive cases within the school and others across the system.
In a normal year the same number of absences would already strain the system, but Hixson explained that Hawkins County has seen a decreased number of returning substitute teachers as well.
“We have fewer subs this year than we had in the past, although last year was extremely tough, I will tell you that we’re slightly in a better position this year with our substitutes coming back,” said Hixson. “Of course going through the summer everybody thought we were past the COVID band then it reared back up and knowing that going into the fall we did have some that came off the sub list.”
“What you have to remember with subs is they’re exposing themselves to a number of classrooms any given week as they cover those vacancies, so it’s a very tenuous situation for some of our subs. Especially if they’re retired, if they’re older, they’ve got to take those considerations into play when they make those decisions, and our sub pool is not what it used to be.”
Hixson said without a closure students would be shuffled to other classrooms, increasing the risk of cross-contamination.
While the closure will temporarily isolate students, the move is not intended to stem the spread of the virus itself. Hixson said the system’s goal is to avoid closure in all circumstances but staffing and to maintain in-person education, especially for young classes.
“About 40% of our student population across the county don’t have consistent internet access,” said Hixson. “So in that case we’re resorting to paper packets, we’re resorting to phone calls, we’re resorting to Zoom calls from a neighbor’s house, that type of thing if there needs to be a staff-to-student interaction and that’s very haphazard. We don’t like to do that, that’s why we want to get the students back in a classroom as quickly as possible.”
Virtual learning challenges only increase for kindergarten to 2nd-grade students, as many parents can attest.
While the circumstances can stress students, faculty, staff and parents, Hixson said he’s been pleasantly surprised by the flexibility and patience shown by residents of Hawkins County.
“I think one of the biggest lessons is not to panic, we’re going to deal with this,” said Hixson. “Unless it becomes a very aggressive disease aimed at our students, we’re going to dedicate ourselves to keeping them safely here, getting them to school and returning them home as safely as possible.”