In-person schooling is planned to return this fall for McMinn County Schools students, but it may look very different than normal.
The McMinn County School Board held a workshop and special called meeting Monday to discuss the system’s plans to return this fall and Director of Schools Lee Parkison outlined the planned structure and precautions to be taken.
He noted that students will be on a “staggered attendance” schedule early on, before resuming mostly normal classes in late August.
Aug. 3 will be an early dismissal day with everyone who feels comfortable returning to school doing so. After that, however, half the students will return on Aug. 5 for their first full day and then the other half of students will return on Aug. 7 for their first full day.
That will continue for the next two weeks, as one half of the students will attend school Monday, Wednesday and Friday of the first week and then Tuesday and Thursday of the following week and the other half of students will attend Tuesday and Thursday the first week and then Monday, Wednesday and Friday the next.
As of Aug. 24, all schools will go back to every student who chooses to show up in person attending.
Parkison noted that the staggered attendance early will help students get comfortable getting back into the process and will help school faculty and administrators learn how much students need to make up after their extended time off due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It helps kids that are coming in and gives us time to work with small groups,” he said. “The benefit for us is we get to assess the kids and find out where they are … without having to go through everyone at one time.”
Parkison noted that any student or parent who prefers not to attend school physically in the upcoming school year can take part in school virtually in a plan that administrators are working on now.
“We’re going to have an option for parents who still don’t feel like they want their child to come to school to have that virtual option,” he said.
Anyone who chooses that route must register online between July 6 and July 31.
Parkison noted that plans are being worked on to ensure that anyone throughout the county who chooses to attend virtually can do so without concerns about limited internet capabilities.
“We will overcome the issue of connectability,” he said. “We’re going to be mobilizing vans or buses to go to areas that do not have wireless. There will be strategic areas and sites where people can go to get wifi. Every school will have wifi in parking lots that reach up to half a mile or so.”
It was noted that options for teachers to be able to give lessons virtually include having webcams set up during class or letting virtual students attend class through a program such as Microsoft TEAMS.
The pandemic has also caused some parents to decide to homeschool their child or send them to private schools, Parkison noted, and he said MCS will attempt to get those students enrolled in the system again when the coronavirus concerns are over.
“We will try to draw back some of these students who left us,” he said, adding that many of the alternatives to MCS will cost parents money. “Ours is going to cost zero, that’s going to be our selling point. We know who they are, we know they left us, we’ve got their telephone numbers because all of them have to report to us as the LEA (local educational agency).”
As for precautions, Parkison noted that some local pediatricians put together a task force to provide recommendations for the school system to follow.
“They wanted to give us the perspective of the local doctors. They know we need to get back to school,” he said. “They came up with some protocols that we’re going to try to follow, but some are just not feasible.”
Among those recommendations is taking students’ temperature before they get on the bus each day. Parkison said there were concerns from school administrators about leaving students at the bus stop if they have a fever, though.
“We can’t leave kids standing there,” he said. “Folks that do come in off the buses will be checked as they come in the doors (of the school). We’ll try to have hand sanitizer on the buses.”
Masks for faculty and administrators will be “highly recommended,” but not required and will be optional for students.
Another area school officials are working on figuring out is what happens when someone tests positive for COVID-19.
The recommendation, Parkison said, was, if a student tests positive, the school should be shut down for three days.
However, he noted that other schools have split students up into groups and, if one gets sick in that group, just that group is out. He added that idea may work in schools that are naturally sectioned off.
“This is going to be a learning experience for us,” Parkison said.