Washington Co. Schools Superintendent: ‘Schools will be ready to go next Tuesday’ after COVID closure

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WASHINGTON COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Last Friday, Washington County parents were alerted that their kids would be unable to return to the classroom for 10 days due to rising COVID-19 cases in the district.

The district used some of its stockpiled “snow days” to account for the days out of the classroom, along with the holiday on Monday.

“Time’s certainly been put to good use and with the number one intent to get everybody back at school on Tuesday to ensure that if we do have to quarantine or there are those students or staff that have to be isolated because they may have symptoms or COVID that there’s a way to continue the learning,” Washington County Schools Superintendent Jerry Boyd said.

Parents had mixed feeling about the decision to keep kids out of school for 10 days.

“In this district, I am happy that they took that into their own hands and said ‘we’re going to use the snow days,’ but what’s the future plan? Are we just going to take four days, five days, every other month?” asked Victoria Baldwin, mom of two.

For a single, working mom, Baldwin said she was glad for the heads up from the school district about kids being out of school and not the abrupt notice of a traditional snow day.

“Friday, whenever we received the text message, I texted everyone, was like ‘Hey, next week, it’s all hands on deck, who can watch which day?’ and planning it out was hectic,” Baldwin said. “And I just appreciate that I have a village around me that I could rely on. Otherwise, it would have been a much more difficult week than it was, so they helped out tremendously.”

She had to go to work earlier in the mornings so she could get off work earlier in the afternoon to pick her kids up from either their aunt or grandfather who would watch them.

Baldwin said she understood the need for kids to be apart for a while as the number of COVID-19 cases rose, but with relatively nice weather, the Appalachian Fair, and Labor Day weekend, she is concerned that it might all be for naught.

“I’m not sure how keeping them out those days, I don’t know if that really helped the numbers or not but I guess we’ll see in a few weeks,” Baldwin said.

For some families, though, the time out of the classroom was a bonding experience.

“No different than if it was Christmas break or summer break,” said Keia Keeling.

Her 6-year-old son is receiving in-home learning due to medical needs, and her 7-year-old daughter goes to in-person learning at school.

Though her kids got the chance to spend some time together, she is still concerned about her daughter returning to school on Tuesday.

“It really makes me nervous sending her to school, considering I do have the one at home with his special needs,” Keeling said. “Currently, it makes me a little nervous that they didn’t have a little more time off with the fair and everything going on. And what that’s gonna look like when they do go back to school, what kind of numbers and things with? I know there’s a lot wearing masks and a lot not wearing masks, and how’s that gonna affect things when they go back?”

As her son has medical requirements keeping him home and out of the classroom, Keeling said she wished she had the same option for her daughter.

“I wish that the school system would consider, Washington County especially, a virtual option for the K-5 students to be able to do,” Keeling said. “I know they have that option for 6-12th grade, but we don’t have that option for the younger children, and I would really like to have that option for our kids.”

She implored other parents to make their kids wear masks at school and for the school district to implement a stricter mask mandate.

“The kids’ safety is my main concern, and I know the local hospitals are getting really bombarded right now, and that’s one of my main concerns also is just making sure that all the kids are really safe because if a lot of them get it, there’s not going to be a place for them to go,” Keeling said.

Boyd said that the time away from the classroom has allowed teachers to better plan for the upcoming semester, as well as for principals to sort through potential contingency plans for another possible outbreak.

“Giving everyone the opportunity to heal, and be ready for what we all want. School will be beginning next Tuesday,” Boyd said. “Schools will be ready to go next Tuesday, and we look forward to everyone being back, and again, with a strong focus on doing everything we can to make sure that in-person learning is the top priority and that we stay in school.”

One extra step the district took this week is a deep cleaning of classrooms.

“Our custodial staff, we spent the week doing additional cleaning, very deliberate and intentional deep cleaning efforts in all of our schools,” Boyd said.

When deciding to close, Washington County Tennessee Schools had 1,495 students in quarantine. A week later, that number now sits at 1,244.

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