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Unicoi County schools surveying parents for input into reopening plans

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Jun 29, 2020 at 10:14 PM

ERWIN — The Unicoi County School System is surveying its students’ parents and guardians for input into plans being formulated for the schools’ Aug. 10 reopening.

“A lot of it is trying to figure out where their feelings are,” Director of Schools John English said. “It is important parents take the time to fill the survey out and share their feelings with us.”

Posted last week on the school system’s website, the back-to-school survey questions whether families will send their children back to the county’s brick-and-mortar schools or if they prefer optional online classes or some combination of the two.

The survey also asks what provisions could be put in place to make parents feel safe about their children’s return to traditional classrooms.

In a letter introducing the survey to parents, English wrote, “We are currently working on a plan to have students in physical classrooms when schools open on Aug. 10, while following health and safety recommendations and guidelines. Protocols will be in place to limit interactions and increase cleanliness efforts.

“To honor individual needs and circumstances of students and families, we also plan to offer the choice of a full-time online program of study as an alternative to in-person learning. Should the need arise to close buildings in the future, our transition from on-campus instruction to online learning should be seamless.”

The letter emphasizes the importance of parent participation in the survey “to inform planning and resource allocation both for online and in-person learning,” and includes a partial list of recommended measures o be followed to minimize health risks. The list includes:

• Increased deep cleaning practices at all schools and on buses.

• Optional mask use for staff and students.

• Hand washing/sanitizing provisions for all schools.

• Daily temperature checks for students and adults.

• Reduced social interactions.

• Pre-approval of visitors allowed on campus.

The letter states, “Details are still being worked out regarding other school activities (such as) athletic events, field trips, concerts, bus service and more ... As plans develop and recommendations change, we will adjust procedures as needed.”

English told the Johnson City Press Monday, “Everything with COVID-19 changes week to week,” and the school system does not want to put its reopening plan in writing prematurely.

“We have the survey out. Aug. 10 is our start date. Mid-July is our plan date. We don’t see the point in putting anything out till closer to the start date.

“A lot could change between now and then. We ask our families to be patient with us. It’s an ever-changing situation and it could look much different at the end of July than now.

“We plan on starting on time but the governor could come out with something different. Six weeks could change things a whole lot,” he said.

In the meantime, English said the survey is “helping us find out how many feel comfortable with coming and how many prefer online learning.”

“We want to have as normal a structure for our children to return to as possible. We have been working very closely with the health department on our plan and we will continue working extensively with our local health department.

“We will release more to our families as we get closer to start time.”