Maryville City Schools is moving its junior high and high school to digital instruction for the remainder of the week, Jan. 19-21, because of high absences among staff.

With a quarter of the junior high teachers in COVID-19 quarantine or isolation — 13 educators — the school had eight vacancies Tuesday, Jan. 18, for which it was unable to find a substitute teacher, according to MCS Director Mike Winstead.

Maryville High School had 11 teachers out for COVID-19 quarantine or isolation, 14% of the teachers at that school, according to the waiver application Winstead filed Tuesday morning, Jan. 18, with the Tennessee Department of Education.

State law allows districts to offer remote instruction for up to five days in classrooms or schools that can document a “significant impact of COVID-19 quarantine or isolation on school operations.” Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn approved the MCS waiver, which requires that all extracurricular activities be canceled at those schools.

Combined Maryville’s high school and junior high had 223 students in quarantine or isolation, and about half a dozen staff members at each location, according to the application. That was 10-11% of students and 17-18% of non-teaching staff.

Across Maryville’s seven schools attendance on Tuesday, Jan. 18, was 83-90%, according to Winstead. Overall the student and staff attendance rates both were 87%.

Alcoa, Blount monitor

Alcoa City Schools closed Tuesday and Wednesday, Jan. 18-19, because of “inclement weather, as well as staff and student illnesses.”

Alcoa Director Becky Stone said she would review the situation this afternoon, Jan. 19, but on Tuesday, Jan. 18, she said illness was at a level that she could not even ask for staff to teach digitally.

Blount County Schools was closed Tuesday, Jan. 18, which Amanda Vance, supervisor of elementary instruction and district communications, said Monday was because of the weather. Vance said Tuesday the district “is in constant review of the numbers.”

Consolidating

Moving Maryville grades 8-12 online will make it easier to keep the elementary and intermediate schools open. “We can use our bus drivers, cafeteria staff, and substitutes to cover the needs in the K-7 schools,” Winstead wrote in an email to The Daily Times.

He noted that keeping the younger children in school reduces the challenges for families to find child care.

Older students at home will follow the same schedules as onsite instruction while teachers provide digital instruction from the classrooms, he said.

In a message to families announcing the change, Maryville City Schools said: “While our families have experience with this learning model, it can be challenging. Nonetheless, we feel strongly that parents too want their students to have the safest and best instructional environment possible. Therefore, we are asking each parent/guardian, teacher, and support staff to patiently and cooperatively work through this together.”

The district also said, “We will continue to monitor attendance in the lower grades and make additional adjustments as needed. Students in grades K-7 will see little or no change to regular schedules this week.”

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Education Reporter

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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