There was “no doubt” in the minds of McMinn County Schools’ administration that two schools needed to close temporarily last week for extra cleaning.
During Thursday night’s regular McMinn County School Board meeting, Director Lee Parkison gave more details on the decision to close McMinn County High School and Niota Elementary School Thursday and Friday due to COVID-19 cases.
Leading up to making the decision, Parkison said he had talked to both directors of schools in the area and local and state health departments seeking guidance on the possibility.
“Where was that line when you close a school,” Parkison asked. “Nobody had an answer. I knew it was going to have to be on our side.”
But then, he said, that answer became clear on Wednesday.
“When we made that decision, I got my answer — there was no doubt,” he said. “It was as clear and plain as it could be because we had an upsurge in two schools.”
He said that school health officials began receiving calls around 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday and that continued throughout the day.
“It was wall to wall phone calls, it was one positive after another,” he said. “I realized we had a problem going on, so I called the supervisors in here (McMinn County Center for Educational Excellence) about 11:30 a.m. and we had a think tank.”
He said there was consensus among everyone as they thought through the system’s options.
“There was just no doubt we had to shut these schools down and do some cleaning now,” he said.
Added on to the question about the schools in general was that the McMinn County Cherokees had their second round playoff game Friday night.
“We were dealing with the state (health department) all day (Wednesday) and the big deal was, there was an outbreak on the McMinn football team,” Parkison explained. “We were waiting to hear — here we are going to the second round of the state tournament — we’re waiting to hear if they’re going to be quarantined.”
It was a long wait, he noted, with plenty of suspense for those involved.
“We were in about a four-hour wait, Coach (Bo) Cagle was calling about every hour asking can we practice,” Parkison said. “I said you go on as normal until further notice — there’s nothing to tell you yet.”
Then, the word came in that the football team could go about its preparations.
“Around 4:30 to 5 o’clock, they said there’s no need to quarantine the football team,” Parkison said. “Those folks that were positive need to be kept away and we need to deep clean the locker room.”
He said that waiting game with the football team is a good example of some of the difficulties that arise when dealing with the coronavirus.
“What happens is you get clusters and that’s really what throws up the red flag,” he said. “You get certain areas — for example, we had a school where the coaches lost their whole basketball team (to positive tests and contract tracing). They commended us for closing the schools — the state health department said that’s the right thing to do.”
Even though the administration does their best to plan ahead with this virus, Parkison said last week’s surge wasn’t something that could be planned for.
“It happened quickly and it just jumped and spiked,” he said. “We are monitoring that daily. We are on top of it.”
He said the schools’ officials working on dealing with the virus are doing a good job.
“We have one of the best staffs as far as contact tracing and monitoring,” he said. “Our schools, our principals, our guidance counselors, it’s like clockwork. I’m very pleased with both schools on how they handled it.”
In an interview with The Daily Post-Athenian on Wednesday and then again in the meeting Thursday night, Parkison noted that he expects school to continue on this week as normal at all sites.