Debate over safety continues, as Knox County Schools set to reopen in one month

Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Knox County Schools are set to reopen in a month, but the debate surrounding whether in-person class can resume safely continues.

Evetty Satterfield, representing the county’s first district on the school board, said strengthening the mask mandate is the primary concern she hears from teachers.

The current plan says masks should be worn by students and staff while on campus, when physical distancing isn’t possible, unless there is a medical condition preventing it. Superintendent Bob Thomas noted Wednesday night, after the board voted to basically endorse the reopening plan, it was flexible and could see many changes over the next few weeks.

Teachers, for and against reopening classrooms in general, are also reaching out to Satterfield.

“Our kids have been gone since March…so there’s a sense of we’re ready to see our kids. There’s also a sense, from my district, of teachers who are just completely terrified because of the underlying health or because of the risks that Covid-19 presents,” she said.

She also noted the plan is subject to changes, and says she’s considering advocating for a strengthened mask mandate at the next board meeting.

“I think my role as a board member is listen to the teachers and support the administration, their plan, and what they’ve done, but also fill in that bridge and that gap to where teachers can fill more secure that do want to go to school and see their kids.”

Barry Golden, an 8th grade science teacher in Knox County, believes data supports virtual school district-wide until the spread of the virus is under control.

He cited a recent uptick in cases and the lapse in key county health metrics for reopening.

“I just can’t imagine anyone in their right mind would be willing to send our kids back to school right now. It flies in the face of science,” he said.

Ultimately, if he’s told to return to school next month, he says he will. On that front, he also supports a strengthened mask mandate; however, he doubts the success of regulating proper usage as well as proper distancing. His concerns also include teachers and staff contracting the virus, especially those with, or living with, a person considered to be at-risk for complications.

“All of us want to get back to school, too…We love all our kids. We love all our peers…We just don’t want to feel like we have to do it in this environment that’s obviously so unsafe by the indicators we set to reopen by,” he added.

Former educator and state representative Gloria Johnson (D – TN House 13) said Friday schools shouldn’t reopen until, at least, after Labor Day.

Johnson pointed to rapid testing and enhanced contact tracing system as essential steps to bringing students back to indoor class.

She also recommended an effort to open more daycare centers for young children, to enable their parents to continue working.

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