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Johnson County Schools open for in-person learning

By Meg Dickens
Staff Writer

During its September meeting, the Johnson County School Board voted to commence Johnson County School System Reopening Plan Option Three, on Wednesday, September 16. Option Three is a full reopen plan and starts in-person classes on school premises while offering virtual options. The main hurdle surrounding reopening at 100 percent was how to make the safest learning environment possible. Faculty members at the meeting said the time between the Thursday meeting and Wednesday morning would be enough to have everything prepared.  

Johnson County Schools added precautions to increase safety, such as mandating masks on campus, adding another nurse to the high school, and treating all instances of symptoms as potential COVID-19 cases and previously added precautions. Statistics show that COVID-19 cases in Northeast Tennessee seem to be decreasing, but are still present in the area. At the time of this article, Johnson County has over 400 recovered cases and 113 active cases. Officials considered returning with hybrid classes at 50 percent but ruled it would not make a notable difference because of social distancing.

“Are you going to have social distancing even if you do 50 percent?” Chairman Howard Carlton asked JCHS Principal Leon Henley during discussions. “If you don’t have social distancing of the ones who are there and somebody has COVID, they’re going to pass it. So we’re in the same circumstance whether you have 100 percent, 50 percent, or 25 percent.”

Board Member Kevin Long brought up another hurdle students and officials will have to face, chronic absenteeism. Legally students are only allowed to miss ten days of school. In light of COVID-19, Long declared, “we can’t have this policy.”

“No, we can’t,” Director of Schools Mischelle Simcox answered. “I think that’s one thing the board is going to have to understand. I wish the State Department would eliminate chronic absenteeism for the 2021 school year, but they are not going to. I think that’s something we’re going to have to realize as a district. We’re saying if your child is sick, keep them at home. They shouldn’t be punished for that.”

Those students may still be able to attend via virtual learning. A variety of students plan to stay virtual throughout the 2021 school year, but numbers are reportedly dropping. In the two weeks between the August 25 board meeting and September 10 meeting, prospective virtual student numbers dropped from 355 students to 315 students. The majority of these students are in elementary school, which seems to make sense from previous Board reports concerning virtual learning troubles. Dr. Cheri Long from Roan Creek Elementary called families from her school on September 10 and reports a drop from 74 students to 47.    

The Johnson County School Board meets the second Thursday of each month for its regularly scheduled meetings. View board meetings live or through archives on the Johnson County Schools TN Video YouTube channel. For more information on Johnson County Schools and its reopening plan, visit jocoed.net.