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Will school begin on time?

Unicoi County Director of Schools John English sits at his desk following live results of a survey that was recently been sent out to families. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Unicoi County Director of Schools John English is looking for ways to start school back on time.

“I am hoping and we are planning on starting back to school on Aug. 10,” English said.

COVID-19 has made planning for the 2020-21 school year difficult, so English is seeking input from students’ families and Unicoi County School System staff on a way to push forward.

“We currently have two surveys that have been sent out to families and staff,” English said. “I can actually see the results in real-time and get an idea of what our families and staff’s concerns are.”

According to English, the surveys ask families and staff to identify the necessary precautions it will take to open school back up.

“Right now everything is on the table, including separating into online and on-campus classrooms,” English said. “As of now, most parents have been supportive of returning back to a normal classroom.”

The term “normal” is being used loosely, according to English.

“We understand that this thing isn’t just going away and we want to provide the safest environment for our students, their families at home and our staff,” English said. “We will probably have temperature checks before entering the building, masks may be required by our bus drivers and social distancing will be implemented on buses and schools. We have also acquired specialized fogging machines that will be used to disinfect the school throughout the day.”

English is very proud of the response from the community to the surveys thus far and hopes that families and staff will continue to check Facebook for any other announcements.

“We have had an overwhelming response and these were just sent out. The overall feeling I get from our families is that we want to get back to normal,” English said. “Of course, we have a lot of work to do, but we will update everyone as soon as it is available on social media and through all other necessary chains.”

According to English, those who are wishing to stay home for online classes will need to understand that there will be stipulations and those wishing to return to school may need to do so at their own risk.

“The online classes will be more secure and organized than they were last year,” English said. “We are better prepared and will require the students at home to be logged in a certain number of hours a day and to be active with their class. As for the students returning to school, we will take every necessary measure to ensure safety, but it may be up to the parents and students to practice safe distancing. Our staff will be working hard to teach and clean areas to provide a safe environment, but it would be impossible to enforce 100 percent social distancing.”

• • •

English acknowledged that graduation for 2020 seniors will be held at UCHS and will be broken down into two ceremonies.

“We are working on the specifics, but right now we are set for July 25 to be the date for our graduation ceremonies,” English said. “We are letting our students decide which ceremony they would like, either morning or afternoon. That is the only fair way to do this and that way if a family has multiple students graduating, then those students can have the same ceremony instead of doing it by alphabet.”

For more information, or to find out when the 2020-21 school year could begin, follow Unicoi County Schools News and Announcements on Facebook.