Maryville City Schools’ entire freshman class will be learning online through Thanksgiving, and Director Mike Winstead expects to make a decision today, Nov. 15, about a portion of the district’s sixth graders.

Maryville Junior High School had nine students test positive for COVID-19 in the past week, and Winstead said those were concentrated in the ninth grade, which has about 400 students.

Although more than 100 students were subject to quarantine because of close contact with a case by Friday afternoon, Nov. 13, Winstead had hoped to keep in-person instruction for the rest.

After announcing Saturday, Nov. 14, the plan to move all ninth graders to digital learning, he told The Daily Times, “The primary factor is the number of staff members out district-wide.”

Maryville City Schools had 17 positions unfilled by substitutes Friday, Nov. 13, and the ninth grade had the highest percentage of students and teachers out for COVID-related reasons, so Winstead said the district decided to move that grade to online learning.

CGIS cases

The district will decide today, Nov. 15, about the Silver House at Coulter Grove Intermediate School, which includes about 100 sixth graders and four teachers. CGIS divides each grade into two teams or “houses,” and the district has two intermediate schools, with grades four through seven.

The CGIS fourth grade is expected to resume in-person instruction, Monday, Nov. 16, after more than a week of virtual learning because most of the teachers were out, according to Winstead.

In the past week, Nov. 9-13, eight students and one staff member at CGIS have tested positive for COVID-19.

Maryville City Schools reported six new cases among staff and 23 among students Nov. 9-13, bringing the total this month to 12 staff members and 28 students.

Since the school year began in late July, MCS has reported 28 staff and 65 student cases among seven schools with a total enrollment of about 5,450.

Winstead said he has talked to colleagues in school districts with additional protocols, such as mask requirements and continuing to check temperatures, but has not seen anywhere those measures appear to keep the number of cases down.

In fact, he said, some have three times the number of cases local schools here have.

“It’s finding the balance, not overdoing but not under-doing,” Winstead said.

All three public school districts in Blount have policies stating when students are expected to or encouraged to wear masks but are not enforcing it as they would their dress code.

School-age cases up

In the past week the equivalent of two to three classrooms full of students have tested positive for COVID-19 in Blount County.

The number of new coronavirus cases among children ages 5-18 rose by 58 from Nov. 7-14, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.

Since Oct. 31 it is up by 98, bringing the total Blount County cases in that age group so far to 503.

Blount County Schools saw 35 new cases this week, 13 among staff members and 22 students. “It was our most challenging week,” Director Rob Britt said.

Although BCS has refused to report cases by school, Britt said this week’s cases were spread across 15 of the district’s 21 schools.

The largest school district in the county with an enrollment of more than 10,300 students, BCS has had a total of 49 staff cases and 100 student cases since classes resumed in late July.

Like Winstead, Britt said the staffing “fill rate” was challenging, as schools have struggled to find enough substitute teachers. “A lot of teachers had to give up their planning,” Britt said, to cover classrooms.

The Blount County Schools COVID-19 response team is scheduled to meet Tuesday, Nov. 17, to discuss further planning.

Alcoa City Schools reported seven new cases between Nov. 5 and Nov. 13, for a total of 31 this school year. ACS is not saying how many are students and how many are staff.

Since the beginning of this school year, Alcoa has reported 13 cases at its high school, nine at the elementary school, six at the intermediate school and three at the middle school. The district’s total enrollment is about 2,150 students.

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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