City schools approve safety plan

Lenoir City High School student Alana Finger films a safety protocol demonstration video with members of the journalism class.

Lenoir City Board of Education approved Thursday a district-wide, back-to-school safety plan.

The school year is set to begin Aug. 7 whether or not students plan on attending in-person or online.

Jeanne Barker, Lenoir City director of schools, said the learning-at-home experience will be different from what students and teachers experienced in the spring. Attendance will be tracked and students will be provided with 6 1/2 hours of instructional content a day.

“Last spring, we didn’t have the guidance we do now,” Barker said. “So it truly is learning at home should they choose that option. We are currently in our enrollment window. We are asking parents who are considering an at-home option to discuss it with their principal and make a decision by July 20 so we can staff accordingly.”

Learning-at-home options are available for students in all grades except pre-kindergarten.

“If schools deem it is necessary to close for intensive cleaning or mandated by state or local health officials, learning at home will continue with virtual lessons within three days of the closure,” the district plan said.

Millicent Smith, Lenoir City Schools supervisor of instructional services, presented to the board plans for a “seamless transition” from in-person learning to at-home learning in the event of a shutdown or need for individual quarantine.

“The first phase of our continuous learning plan was submitting our CARES Act application,” Smith said. “So using our allocation of the CARES Act money in the technology infrastructure part. The classrooms where students can stream in but also making sure students K-2 have devices and putting that stuff in place. … Using streaming in the classrooms, using our one-to-one technology, the Remind app, the website, Google Meet, Canvas, making sure we use every tool we have available so students can move in and out of in-home learning and out-of-home learning as seamless as possible. … We have to present the state with this plan, and we’ve been giving very specific guidelines from the state for this content.”

Smith said she’s been working closely with teachers to determine if the plan is ready to go, although it is not yet ready for “public consumption.” Cameras will be placed in classrooms so students can watch live streams of lessons from home.

The district safety plan also addresses what happens should someone tests positive for COVID-19.

Barker said the district will work closely with Loudon County Health Department to conduct contact tracing. This includes students staying with the same groups of students and the same teachers — whenever possible — throughout the day. Assigned seats will also be used when they can. This will make the process easier to track contact because the student will always be near the same students, Smith said.

Student temperatures will be taken before entering schools and boarding school buses. If a student’s temperature is above 100.4, they will be isolated with a mask and sent home. The student must stay home for two days and have a normal temperature for 24 hours before returning to school. Students are also encouraged to wear masks and/or face shields while at school. Teachers and staff will be required to wear masks and/or face shields.

Don Maloney, Lenoir City Elementary School principal, said he’s worried about keeping young learners socially distanced and wearing masks. Young children are “touchy feely” and want to hug each other and play, so it will be a constant battle for teachers to catch these behaviors and correct them, he said.

“My biggest concern is little kids are not going to keep masks on,” he said. “… Small group instruction, stations and partner work are essential in any elementary setting. You have to be able to work in groups. How we’re going to be able to do that … I don’t want them to have to just sit in rows all day.”

One of Lenoir City High School Principal Chip Orr’s biggest concerns is the lack of room to social distance on campus.

“Just the amount of people that are on our campus on a given day, it’s impossible to social distance in that setting,” he said. “That’s one of my biggest concerns is trying to maintain some semblance of social distancing while we’re there, and we know they can’t do that between or even during classes. So we’re going to encourage kids to wear masks when they can’t do social distancing.”