Lenoir City Schools is taking a hybrid learning approach for at least the first grading period after a handful of students recently tested positive for COVID-19.
Grades 7-12 started a schedule Thursday that will have some students in class and others at home learning. No students are on campus Wednesdays. Group A consists of last names A-L and Group B consists of last names M-Z.
The plan is to maintain this approach at least through Oct. 9.
“We did not want to say, ‘OK, for two weeks we’re going to do this and then for two weeks we’re going to do that’,” Jeanne Barker, Lenoir City director of schools, said. “We just need some consistency for teachers and families and kids. So that’s why we said, ‘OK, let’s do it for a grading period. That seems to be like a natural break.’ If we see we’re still in this situation, we’ll make a decision well in advance. I said by the first week of October, so that gives us a week to know and then we have a week of fall break so that people can make plans.”
The decision comes after six individuals tested positive for COVID-19 at Lenoir City High School, and in-person learning was halted for everyone Aug. 24-26.
Chip Orr, LCHS principal, last week said more than 100 students were potentially affected.
Only eight positive cases have been reported in Lenoir City Schools.
A hybrid setup allows for more space for students, Barker said.
“We had all of our students coming, and our enrollment has increased, and we have a lot of students who want to be in school every day and our parents want them in school every day,” Barker said. “We want them in school every day, but with the rules from the health department that says — we thought when we first started this, the rules were mask up and you’ll be OK, and immediately the Academy of Pediatrics says 3 feet was OK. Well, then they threw that out of the window with the Tennessee Department of Health and said, ‘No, it’s got to be 6 feet.’ There is a protocol from the health department that has come out and if they are within 6 feet for 10 minutes then you have to do classroom contacts, lunchroom contacts, free period contacts, bus contacts, extracurricular contacts.
“So by the time one person comes in and they’ve had to go home for whatever reason, we have to contact all these people related to that one person,” she added. “So we’re just absolutely forced to have to limit the number of people that that child comes in contact with and that is all this is about.”
The new approach should lessen the number of individuals impacted if someone tests positive, Orr said.
“Our ultimate goal is that if should another student test positive then we won’t have to worry so much about contact tracing because in the classrooms I mean kids are 6 feet apart because there’s not as many kids in the room,” Orr said. “Now there are still some rooms that maybe have 19 or 20 now and so they can’t completely social distance, but still it will be fewer kids surrounding that you would have to contact if a student tests positive.”
There have been challenges along the way, Barker said.
“We have the technology, we have trained our students and our teachers,” she said. “When you actually put it into practice there’s always some things that have to be smoothed out. So we are working on the communication part to make sure that everybody has an avenue to reach out if they have questions, whether it’s students, parents, teachers. We are doing a lot of checking in on people, and principals are working to make sure our teachers have what they need. We have instructional coaches in the district and they’re working with our teachers also to make sure that their questions are answered. Anytime you do something new it’s going to take us a little time to adjust.”
Orr believes the transition has gone well.
“For example, students who don’t have reliable internet service, we’re having to problem-solve that,” Orr said. “... Taking attendance is different than — when you’ve got some kids who are learning at home — so those are some of the challenges but it’s gone a whole lot smoother. These first two days, if they’re any indication, then this is something I hope we’re able to stick with for a while.”
Students are to check in with their “normal homeroom,” Orr said.
“The shift to a hybrid schedule is new to parents, students and teachers, so there will be some adjustments, but overall it has been a positive change because it allows for more personal space for students in grades 7 and 8,” Brandee Hoglund, Lenoir City Intermediate/Middle School principal, said in an email correspondence. “We have had only small issues because we had prepared our students for virtual learning in the first two weeks of school. We have made accommodations for those students without the internet, and teachers have had to field more student questions around content and assignments. Our teachers are showing lots of grace and understanding for our students because it is new to everyone.”
Barker said the school system is working with the Loudon County Boys & Girls Club should students need help.
“We have developed a relationship with them where we have tested our internet and our software and all that works well, and now we’re providing training for their staff to also be a support for some of our students,” she said. “... We’re working to see what options might be there, even some groups of students that might be available to meet during the day. We’re not there yet but we’re working with them to develop that.”
Meals are being considered for students at home. Barker said parents can learn more about that through the same online portal where they pay for meals.
“Ms. Vicki Bivens (city schools nutrition supervisor) is working on how we are going to make sure that all students have meals if they want those,” Barker said. “We’ve talked about even doing some meals that they could take home but also if we have to deliver some we could work that out. Band, choir, those groups are working to maintain an opportunity to participate, singers, all of our athletic programs, extracurriculars, they will adhere to all of the guidelines, but those are opportunities that students need to have some normalcy and so this hybrid plan, it does count school, so it’s a school day, so we’re going to try to continue as many normal operations as we can.
“If we have some kind of breakout somewhere then we’ll have to address that,” she added.