McMinn County High School and Niota Elementary School were closed down Thursday and Friday for deep cleaning due to increased COVID-19 activity at the schools.

According to a statement released on Facebook from McMinn County Schools, Niota Elementary School was closed on Thursday and Friday for a “thorough” cleaning with the principal, custodians and cafeteria staff reporting to the school to clean.

McMinn County High School was also closed for both days for cleaning with no other virtual learning requirements to occur during the two days of closure and no other staff being required to report to the schools.

All other schools have maintained their normal operational hours.

According to McMinn County Schools Director Lee Parkison, the spikes in COVID activity have been in “cluster groups.”

“We had a spike in cases at the two schools, so we felt that we needed to close down and do a deep clean at those locations,” Parkison said. “I do not foresee having to continue the closures into next week but we will make a decision on Friday.”

This is the first time McMinn County Schools has closed down any of the schools for a “deep clean” since school has started back during the pandemic.

“We are cleaning daily and our custodians have done a fantastic job, but sometimes it just overwhelms you,” he noted. “Our numbers are down in the other schools so we don’t see the need to close those schools at this time for a thorough clean ... I’ve seen custodians walking around cleaning doorknobs during the school day with students in the classroom but you do get spikes like this and this type of virus is hard to keep up with, so we felt that we needed to do some extra cleaning.”

Parkison stated that the schools are monitoring the COVID situation every day.

“We keep a close eye on it all the time. My school health coordinator and our human resources team are constantly in touch with the local health department, the regional health department, and the state health department,” said Parkison. “They are on top of it and we are blessed in this county to have people take it so serious.”

Should schools have to scale back to full virtual courses, in the event of a larger spread of the virus, the high school students currently have the advantage in virtual learning.

“We are not ready for virtual learning with our K-8 students, we are getting computers ready for them now but they are not here yet,” he stated. “Our high schools were ready to go, they were one to one — in other words every student in the county high school had a computer — so we are ready to go full virtual with the high school at anytime (if needed) but not K-8th grade.”

He stated they ordered computers for K-8 students and they should arrive at the schools within the coming month.

“We are monitoring the virus hourly, it is taking up about 80% of our day ... It is just a difficult time and we wanted to close because we were concerned about our students, teachers and our serving staff’s health,” said Parkison. “We take it very seriously and we will continue to take it seriously because their health comes first.”

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