Schools prep for upcoming year

Lenoir City High School students Lauren Greene, right, and Lillie Lovelace enjoy lunch on the first day of the 2020-21 spring semester. Precautions that include cafeteria table dividers will be scaled back this year.

As the new school year draws closer, Loudon County and Lenoir City schools are preparing protocols based on the trial and error of the previous year.

Michael Garren, Loudon County director of schools, said Loudon County Board of Education looked at what was successful last year and made modifications that are more “open” based on the current COVID-19 climate.

“As the year goes on, if things open up and stay the way they are now where everything seems to be going well, then we’ll loosen it up a little bit more into the first nine weeks,” Garren said. “… Where we zoned the playgrounds off last year, we’re going to let the kids play together outside. We’re still not requiring masks. We’re still going to keep all our electrostatic sprayers in the schools, hand sanitizer, just all the additional safety protocols, air purifiers, all of those will still be in place, and we’ve got replacement stuff for all of that. We’ve got more sanitizing stuff to use this year. We’ve replenished our stock. We’ll still start off every other seat in the cafeteria.”

He hopes to relax cafeteria seating in 4-6 weeks.

“Everybody was pleased with the way that we had our arrival and dismissal, how efficient that was without people coming into the building and things like that,” he said. “We’re going to keep that in place, but we are allowing volunteers back into the building to work. Visitors, we’re allowing, but we’re still just asking them to let the office know, those type things. It’s very similar to last year, just a little bit scaled back if that makes sense, based on the conditions, and then we’ll reevaluate it a month or six weeks in, and we may scale back the cafeteria piece, too.”

Garren and school board members looked to last year’s success with virus cases and quarantines for guidance on this year’s plans, he said.

“I think the biggest thing since we were in person all year and were successful, we felt like we had a good plan, so we just wanted to modify our existing plan based on better conditions is just kind of the gist of it,” he said.

Both school systems will again start the year with staggered first days. Students whose last name starts with A-G will begin Aug. 4, H-N will start Aug. 5 and O-Z will come Aug. 6. All students will report Aug. 9.

Jeanne Barker, Lenoir City director of schools, said while implemented last year for safety reasons, the protocol gave teachers and students more one-on-one time at the start of school, which fosters healthy relationships.

Lenoir City will no longer operate a hybrid schedule. Students have the option to learn fully virtual or in person. Schools will also no longer have a mask protocol.

“We will continue follow the cleaning and sanitizing protocol between classes and lunch sessions as well as have hand sanitizers easily accessible throughout the building,” Barker said in an email correspondence. “We are renovating bathrooms and expanding our (Lenoir City High School) cafeteria to support students as we grow in numbers. We are adding two guidance counselor positions and structures to support students socially and emotionally as we maximize learning opportunities for students during the school day. Additional tutoring before, during and after school is being funded as well.

“Last year taught us to remember how important learning time and direct teacher interaction is for all of our students,” she added. “Our goal is to maximize our teaching time to create learning leaps for all of our students.”