BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – Multiple school districts in the region start classes on Monday, including Sullivan County Schools. Over 2,000 students are enrolled at the new West Ridge High School.
The West Ridge student population comes from the consolidation of Sullivan County Central, North and South High Schools.
Alex Huffman, a West Ridge Senior, said the new facility is an academic upgrade that provides more opportunities than his previous school at Sullivan County South.
“Back at Sullivan South, they didn’t have classes like accounting, machining, any type of stuff like that,” Huffman said.
Another ex-Sullivan County South student Hailey Ketron said the new classes will better prepare her for higher education.
“More classes that I can take that are focused on what I want to do is really cool,” Ketron said.
Both parents and students are excited to start this year in-seat at the new facility, but some are expressing concern as the return to school comes as COVID-19 cases are spiking across the region.
The Sullivan County School Board voted down a mask mandate last week. Masks are recommended but not required for students and staff.
Without a mandate, parents are taking steps to keep their students safe. High schoolers are old enough to get the vaccine, which is something both Ketron and Huffman have both discussed with their parents.
Ketron has been vaccinated. Huffman has not been vaccinated, but said he plans to soon after talking with his mother, Michelle Wesche. Huffman said he did not get COVID over the winter even as it spread through his family.
“It didn’t show up the first time, so I don’t know if I’ll be as lucky this time, so I’m just going to go ahead and get the vaccine,” he said.
Wesche said she left the decision up to Huffman, but the concern with the Delta variant’s impact on children changed their minds.
“It wasn’t affecting children at the time, so he felt like he didn’t want to go get it yet,” Wesche said. “Since the Delta variant has become prevalent and it is affecting children, we feel that it is something he needs.”
Vaccinated students can still spread COVID-19 to their unvaccinated peers. Leeann Bruner is Hailey Ketron’s mother. She will recommend her children wear masks at school, but thinks the school mandating them would be a good idea.
“If the schools continue to let parents know what they’re doing and their effort to keep the COVID cases down, I think we’re going to see a more positive response,” Bruner said.
Bruner said she expects cases to come once school starts, but hopes the majority of students stay in school.