Unvaccinated but not unprotected: School districts express plans to keep 12 and under age group safe this school year

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TRI-CITIES, Tenn./Va. (WJHL) – The COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for use in those 12 and up; however, it leaves parents wondering if their children who fall in the ineligible age group will be safe this school year, especially with dangerous variants popping up closer to home each day.

After last school year, the goal of district officials across the region has been to have a school year that’s as normal as possible, while also being as safe as possible.

With the 2021-2022 academic year quickly approaching, plans are in place for prepping classrooms and lesson plans and keeping those elementary and middle school students under 12 safe this school year.

For kids who just started their academic careers in late 2019, ‘normal’ for them is online schooling and masks, so this year will be a lot different. However, the safety measures they’ve grown to know, for the most part, won’t change too much.

Districts are preparing for every scenario, and while some safety measures have been removed, others are here to stay.

“Good hygiene practices, social distancing when we can and what’s feasible and continue with everything we’ve learned the past year. At this point, the only difference as far as CDC guidance, or at least how we’re going to apply that, is that fact that it won’t be required to wear masks at this point in time, just like we were able to do in our summer learning camps,” said Washington County, TN Schools Superintendent, Jerry Boyd.

Across the state line in Virginia, Superintendent of Bristol Virginia Public Schools Keith Perrigan shares a similar line of thinking.

“We’re going to try to maintain six feet of social distancing. That was one of our mitigations last year, and that is one of the key factors the health department looks at whenever they’re making decisions about quarantine,” said Perrigan.

According to Elizabethton City Schools Director, Richard VanHuss, making the right decision when it comes to safety, in most cases, will need to be evaluated on a situational basis.

“As we’ve all learned this past year, it continues to change, it’s very fluid, so we’re just going to be ready to make whatever decision we think is best as far as the safety of our staff and our students,” said Van Huss.
In most schools, masks will be gone, but extra sanitizing of campuses and buses will remain across the Tri-Cities and Southwest Virginia.

In Kingsport City Schools, additional grant money for this upcoming school year is allowing for an extra layer of protection for students Kindergarten through 12th grade.

“One of the things that we’ll be doing this year is having the opportunity to test students and staff for COVID as they go through the course of this year. If they’re symptomatic, that’s another layer of protection that we want to be able to provide to our students and our staff,” said Kingsport City Schools Asst. Superintendent, Dr. Andy True.

Continuing to look at initiating the best health practices and not only keeping children safe from COVID but from illness in general, remains a top priority in all of these school districts.

From COVID testing on school grounds to the basics of washing your hands and keeping a distance, there are plans in place across the district to keep this age group safe. School officials told News Channel 11 these plans will only improve as the school year goes on.

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