Monroe County Schools Director Dr. DeAnna McClendon recently reflected on the decision made by McMinn County Schools Director Lee Parkison to temporarily close two McMinn County Schools for a deep cleaning due to an increase of COVID cases in the county.

McMinn County High School and Niota Elementary School were both closed for two days last week due to COVID-19 surges. McClendon said case increases are a concern in Monroe County, but that it isn’t to the point of temporary school closures.

“We are having an uptick in cases, not per se just a school community, but a community as a whole,” McClendon said. “Because we are having the number of positive cases go up in the community, we are having children and employees being exposed to people who have tested positive so we are having to quarantine and that is affecting us a great deal.”

She noted that a large portion of people would have to quarantine after being around a student who may have tested positive.

“For example, if you have a student that is playing on a sports team and a member of the team tests positive, you will have to quarantine the whole team because they would have had contact with that student through games or practices,” she stated. “We have experienced that and I think that we should expect that. Science has told us that we are going to see an uptick during flu season with the virus and fortunately we have not, yet, been forced into a position where we needed to close a school down, but I will say that I would not be surprised if we had to and I think that as a community and as a school we should be prepared to do that.”

Monroe County Schools is utilizing the CARES Act funding they had received to prepare for a situation where they may be forced to close schools down.

“We are working on building our infrastructure and our devices for our students to be virtual, so if we are placed in that situation then we too could support going fully virtual or have a remote learning day,” she said.

Fridays are currently being used as a remote learning day where students participate in class in a virtual setting.

“During those remote days they are engaging with their teachers virtually and they also have independent assignments and packets that are required for them to do during those days,” McClendon explained.

The county school board had previously ordered computers for their students to use in the event of the schools having to close down due to the virus.

“We received our first shipment of 1,400 computers last week,” McClendon noted. “Our staff and contracted vendor are in the process of readying those computers to be passed out to students and we feel encouraged that we should receive our second shipment in the next couple of weeks, which will also work to make ready for student use and plan to distribute them when the students return in January.”

The Monroe County School Board is closely monitoring the way the pandemic is affecting the community.

“We get a report each day from our community and that is very important. Then principals, school health, and our supervisors make me aware, on a daily basis, on our cases, so using both of those data points we are watching and monitoring the situation closely,” she said. “We are being vigilant in the safety precautions and with cleaning. I know our students are experiencing what we call ‘COVID fatigue’ but we just remind them that the virus isn’t over … but if anything I would say that people in our school community are being more vigilant about the virus now than they were in the beginning and I am encouraged by that.”

McClendon believes that each school community is faced with a lot of different decisions to make concerning what is best for their own community.

“We keep saying that we are living in unprecedented times but I know that superintendents and boards are having to make difficult decisions to keep their students safe,” expressed McClendon. “The decisions are not easy to make and we just need a lot of patience and understanding as we try to continue to educate our children and keep them safe simultaneously.”

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