The Rhea County School Board held a workshop on Wednesday where it outlined its COVID-19 policy cases increase in Rhea County.
Rhea County Director of School Jesse Messimer said that as of now, there were no plans to close schools, and school board members emphasized their goals to keep both students and staff safe.
School board member Perry Massengill said schools will provide hand sanitizer at various locations throughout county schools, and board member Dale Harris said that while mask are not required, he would encourage wearing masks.
Messimer and school board members were optimistic about the current trajectory of COVID-19 cases in schools and said that while there were a number of students staying home from school due to a positive case of exposore to COVID-19 in early August. That number seems to be leveling off and decreasing approaching the end of the month.
School board member Bimbo McCawley said that as vaccination rates increase and as students who had COVID-19 acquire natural immunity the number of students needing to stay home from school will start deceasing.
The school board also announced on Wednesday that Messimer is sending out a letter to all parents and students in the Rhea County School System explaining what procedures will be followed in the event schools should need to close and issuing guidance on what to do should a child be exposed to or test positive for COVID-19.
“This year’s district calendar does include the traditional 10 inclement weather days, which can also be used throughout the school year in case of illness,” Messimer said. “If all inclement weather days are used, any school-wide or district-wide instructional days that are lost due to illness must be made up using other days such as fall break, winter break, spring break or by extending the school year.”
In 2020, the state allowed school district to provide virtual learning and also allowed school districts to close single schools in the event of a COVID-19 increase. However, school officials said that the state did not give them those options this year and that virtual learning has ceased and if one school must close due to an increase in cases, then all school must close.
Messimer said that if a student has tested positive for the disease, they are required to isolate and will not be allowed to return to school until they have been quarantined for 10 days from the beginning of their symptoms. He also asks that unvaccinated siblings of those who test positive also observe the 10-day quarantine.
Any contact tracing, school officials said, is being handled by the Rhea County Health Department, and the school system will provide the health department with any relevant information should the need arise.
The Rhea County School System operates a COVID-19 dashboard, which is updated daily Monday through Friday. That dashboard can be visited at www.rheacounty.org/c19dashboard.