Athens City Schools officials are looking to take some action in regard to COVID-19.
During the ACS Board’s monthly work session, system officials brought up the idea of removing the system’s COVID-19 metric and instead following the process they say has proved to work better.
The metric was adopted in July of 2020 and was intended to determine what phase of learning (virtual vs. in-person) the schools would be in.
According to the metric, if 0.5% of the McMinn County population falls under active coronavirus cases, system officials would begin considering going to an alternating schedule similar to what they did the first two weeks of school.
However, as more has been learned about the virus and how it affects schools, officials noted that they believe it has become prudent to move away from the metric.
“We didn’t have any background as to how high the numbers would go, but more importantly we didn’t have knowledge of how effectively Athens City Schools would be able to manage it,” Assistant Director of Schools Melody Armstrong said in relation to originally adopting the metric.
Instead of using it, Armstrong said officials had decided to officially codify the process they have used and found more relevant.
“We’re following the process of what we actually do,” she said.
The process outlined is:
• ACS will monitor daily the number of active COVID-19 cases in McMinn County
• ACS will consult with the health department and evaluate the need to transition to a different phase
• ACS will consult with the local Pediatrician Task Force and Starr Regional Medical Center to confirm the risk to children and the community as a whole to confirm the risk to the children and the community as a whole
• ACS will also consider the presence of the virus in the buildings
• ACS will consider the impact of on-campus school on the community spread
• ACS will consider the information available from contact tracing
• ACS will consider student and staff attendance rates
Using the metric, Armstrong noted, “we would have individuals say we should be closed and then we would go back through the data and they would understand that it would be much simpler just to say we’re following this process.”
No action was taken on Jan. 27 due to it being a work session and the expectation was that the change would come to a vote during today’s regular board meeting.
System officials are also working toward making COVID-19 vaccines available on-site, if approved.
“The state has made it available for schools to apply to be on-site vaccine sites for a district,” Family Engagement & Coordinated School Health Director Julie Lofland said. “We’re in the process of completing the application. We’re at the point where we’ve ordered a refrigerator with special monitoring and an alarm.”
She said the application process is fairly lengthy and it would require steps of approval before ACS officials would hear anything.
However, if approved, “then we’ll be on a list to hopefully get enough vaccines to do all of our staff.”
She noted that all three system nurses and the doctor who administers flu shots for the system have said they’re on board with administering COVID-19 vaccines.
This might allow students and staff to be vaccinated earlier in the process, officials hope.
“That’s our hope — that we can get the vaccines quicker that way than waiting for the health department,” she said. “Whichever we get first, that’s where we’re going.”
“The decision I made was let’s get on board and if it comes first (through being a distribution site), we’ll have it,” Director of Schools Robert Greene said. “The worst thing is that we bought a refrigerator to use for something else. Anything we can do to expedite getting our people vaccinated we want to do.”
Officials have also made a change to the policy regarding athletes returning from having COVID-19.
“The Pediatrician Task Force strongly recommended that if an athlete has had COVID, before they return, they see a physician,” Lofland said. “We now have an administrative policy that if an athlete had COVID, they need to have a doctor’s note or a parent’s note before they are released to play sports.”
She and Greene noted that both the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) and the American Pediatric Association recommended this policy as well.
So far, she added, there has been no athlete in the system who has tested positive for COVID-19.