Because of COVID-19 cases, one local private school is moving all classes online this week and a public school is doing the same with an entire fourth grade.
Starting today, Nov. 6, all of Clayton-Bradley Academy’s 320 students will go to virtual learning until Dec. 7, Assistant Director Kendall Terry told The Daily Times.
He declined to say how many cases the private school has but also mentioned the cases in the community when he said the school is moving to virtual learning out of an “abundance of caution.”
Last week he told the newspaper the school had experienced only two cases, both in the first quarter. More than 90% of students had been attending classes on campus.
CGIS staff cases
The entire fourth grade at Coulter Grove Intermediate School moved to virtual learning Thursday, Nov. 5, after five staff members at the school were reported positive for the coronavirus this week.
That grade will continue with virtual learning through next week out of an abundance of caution, Maryville City Schools Assistant Director Amy Vagnier said. One student at the school tested positive this week.
Since classes resumed in late July, MCS has moved three individual classes to online learning because of quarantine or isolation requirements. Those included elementary and a special education classroom, according to Vagnier.
This is the first time the district has moved an entire grade level at a school to distance learning.
Other Maryville cases this week, through Thursday, have been a staff member at the junior high, two students at the high school and one at Montgomery Ridge Intermediate School.
School administrators have been working to ensure they have enough staff cover for teachers who must quarantine.
Maryville is using teaching assistants to serve as substitutes at the elementary level and asking substitute teachers if they are willing to fill in for grades other than those they have listed as “preferred,” Vagnier said.
More Alcoa cases
Alcoa City Schools moved its high school to virtual learning for a week, returning to campus Wednesday, Nov. 4. That allowed high school staff to help fill in with the lower grades.
Alcoa has had at least six new cases this week, half at the high school, two at the intermediate school and one at the elementary school.
Since classes began through Thursday, Nov. 5, ACS has reported 24 cases, but it is not saying how many are students and how many are staff members.
Meanwhile Blount County Schools Director Rob Britt said this week the district is looking at multiple staffing strategies, noting that COVID-19 cases have led to 650 quarantines in the district so far this school year.
As of Thursday, Nov. 5, BCS has reported 36 staff and 78 students positive for the coronavirus, an increase of nine students and one staff member since last week.
BCS is not reporting cases by school, but Britt said this week that most had been in the high schools.
“The best news about all of this is we’re still in school,” Britt told the Blount County Commission’s Education Committee during a meeting Wednesday, Nov. 4.
“I hope we’ll continue to be able to have school,” he said, adding that to date the district had not converted any class, grade or school to fully online learning.
The “fill rate” for bringing in substitutes is down, in some cases to as low as 89%, a level he called “concerning.” He noted that in past years the regular flu had caused schools to shut down.
“We are surviving, but barely,” Britt said.
ESS, the company that supplies substitutes to the district, is recruiting, and BCS is considering an incentive for substitutes who work five consecutive days.
The district also may pay middle school and high school teachers to cover classes during what would normally be their planning periods.
BCS is restricting leave for professional development on Mondays and Fridays, two of the most difficult days for staffing. Personal and sick leave are not affected by that, but existing policy already requires principal approval for personal leave if more than 10% of teachers at the school will be off that day.
Nov. 11 practice
On Veterans Day, Nov. 11, BCS is holding all classes online as a practice in case that is needed in the future.
“Our students will still be going to school that day, just in a different way, Britt said.
Families will need to contact their student’s school the day before if they want to pick up a free breakfast and lunch the morning of Nov. 11.
During the Education Committee meeting, Commissioner Dawn Reagan, who teaches at Carpenters Middle School, credited the custodians for their role in fighting the virus.
“You can’t socially distance middle school and high school kids. That’s just impossible,” she said. “We just do the best we can in our classrooms.”
Commissioner Dodd Crowe, who teaches at the same school and was reelected during the meeting to chair the committee, agreed.
“It’s like putting a bunch of marbles on the back floorboard of your car and expecting them to stay settled,” he said to laughter from the commissioners and school officials in the room. He continued by comparing contact tracing to stopping at a stop sign and then figuring out which marbles were beside each other.