Smoky Mountain News, Written by Admin

The Jackson County Board of Education voted to proceed with Phase 2 of the district’s reentry plan at their work session on Sept. 1.  Interim Superintendent Dr. Tony Tipton recommended the change that allows students to return to their classrooms on an A/B schedule beginning Sept. 14.

The decision was primarily based on information and data from local health officials showing a flattening rate of COVID-19 infections in the area. “We’d only had two cases of an in-school student being identified, so we felt pretty comfortable going forward,” Tipton said.

The A/B schedule divides students into two groups that attend classes in-person on different days of the week to reduce the number of people in each classroom.  Families also have an option to keep children at home and participate in fully remote learning.

The district began the school year in August with two weeks of orientation on the A/B schedule followed by the current two weeks of remote learning for all students.

“I was very happy,” Tipton said of the two orientation weeks.  “All of the principals reported that the kids were responding tremendously well.”

During those two weeks, 63% of students attended school in-person on the A/B schedule and 37% chose fully remote learning.

Despite the successful opening, Tipton remains concerned about the toll the schedule is taking on the district’s nearly 300 teachers as well as parents who have been forced to become part-time teachers.

“Everybody from the safety part of it has been wonderful,” Tipton said.  “The part that is not as well as we would like is the super-load that we’ve put on our teachers and parents.  Public education was never meant to operate the way COVID has forced us to.”

Efforts to control the virus have also wreaked havoc on extracurricular programs.  Fall sports have been postponed for several months, however district leaders are hopeful that teams will eventually have an opportunity to play.

“We are fully committed to going with what the high school athletic association says,” Tipton stated.  “However, if we do have to close down a school or the district, we’ll come back together and revisit that and determine if it needs to change.”

While Tipton is optimistic about keeping students in school for the long-term, he maintains a realistic perspective on any eventual move to Phase 3 of the district’s plan.

“All Phase 3 does is change the number of people at an event,” Tipton said.  “So, I envision sadly that we’ll be with these restrictions for the rest of this school year.”

Even so, Tipton emphasized the responsibility everyone has in preventing another shutdown.

“We have the ability to keep schools open by following the guidelines of wearing a mask, staying apart, and keeping our hands clean,” Tipton said.  “That is something we control, so we must be vigilant and do it.”