“There have been rumors, conflicting information and lots of questions over the past week regarding opening and operating schools beginning in August,” said Director of Schools Matt Hixson in a Thursday morning press release.

This press release detailed a few updates that have been made to the system’s reopening plan and also noted the new reopening date.

Instead of reopening on August 4, parents and students are asked to take part in “Intro to the School Year” via a virtual format from Aug. 4-7.

The updated plan also gives more specific information on how the system will determine which of the three ‘phases’ (green, yellow, or red) under which it will operate.

Hixson and several school administrators also met on Thursday to further establish details and schedules. Hixson told the Review that he plans to release the information from this meeting beginning the week of July 27.

In the meantime, Hixson encouraged parents and students to monitor the system’s website and pay close attention to the new buttons toward the middle of the home page. These buttons will link to the latest information, edits to our operational plan, and a new Question and Answer live document.

Weekly updates will be emailed to staff, posted to the website and posted to social media.

Operational Status

“As a reminder, we are utilizing the epi curves website from the Tennessee Department of Health,” Hixson said within the press release.

“However, I have asked our regional heath to assist in breaking down current COVID-19 data relevant to our school populations, so that our decisions are based upon data affecting our students and staff,” he added. “I will update you all with any progress.”

Green, yellow and red phases

The following are the updated three ‘phases:’

GREEN Level: Schools remain open, operating as normal with general safety precautions in place. Hawkins County Schools will enlist parents and community in assisting with ensuring student safety and health.

Average rate of active new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 County residents is five or less, over the last 14 day period (or as identified by school site).

YELLOW Level: Schools are eventually forced to alter educational models. Hawkins County Schools would employ a remote/in-person hybrid learning scenario. Under the YELLOW phase, the model would consist of bringing half of the students into the classrooms Mondays and Tuesdays, working with all students remotely on Fridays while staff deep cleans all facilities, and bringing the remaining half of the student population to classrooms on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Average rate of active new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 County residents is higher than six over the last 14 day period (or as identified by school site).

RED Level: Schools close to students on campus, and there are subsequent school/community-based closures. In the event of school closures, Hawkins County Schools would employ their remote learning plan, consisting of all teachers teaching students remotely in live sessions where possible.

Average rate of new cases of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 County residents is consistently and substantially higher than ten over the last 14 day period (or as identified by school site).

Virtual Offerings in Hawkins County

“We are pleased to be able to offer two virtual options for parents this year,” Hixson said.

Hawkins County Virtual Academy, HCVA, is a long-term virtual educational program in its second year. It offers up to 150 seats for those who wish to participate in virtual learning long-term, preferably for the 2020-21 school year. This is also offered for students who have internships, jobs, dual enrollment, early military entrance, etc. and who may need flexible instructional times.

Hawkins County eLearning Program, HCeLP, is a new addition, adding short-term and as-needed virtual learning options for students who do not feel safe returning to school. HCeLP is intended to be a semester-to-semester option and will be the platform the system employs if they have to move everyone toward virtual learning during the course of the school year.

Parents who wish to utilize this option will need to sign up no later than Friday, July 24. In the event Hawkins County Schools enters a Red phase, the system will employ the HCeLP for all students. With this in mind, all students will receive log in and account information at the start of this school year. Teachers and students will have opportunities to explore this tool within their classroom environments and at home once they have their accounts established. Any transitions to full virtual instruction will be easier if students are exposed to these tools prior to that point, if possible.

Masks

“Of all the phone calls and questions we have received, this tends to be the most frustrating for parents on either side of this topic,” Hixson said. “There are those who wish masks to be mandated for all staff and students. There are those who desire personal choice. At this point, we will provide masks for all employees and students. We are encouraging staff in the Yellow phase of operation to wear masks in all common areas. Student mask wearing remains a personal decision, one that each parent and student will need to make. We will make it abundantly clear that no matter the personal choice, we will act professionally toward one another and will expect the same of all students.”

School Year Start

“As some have noticed, surrounding school systems have already started delaying start dates,” Hixson said. “We will open the school year on Aug 4 as planned, but will do so with virtual parent and student meetings and walkthroughs on Aug. 4, Aug. 5, and Aug. 7. Voting will take place at many HCS school sites on August 6. We will clean all facilities in preparation for Monday, August 10, in the event we can open under the Yellow phase.”

He encouraged parents and students to look for information from their respective school site regarding the Aug 4 -7 events and the opening phase.

“Students will be on site, if we are able to open in “Yellow” on August 10,” he said. “Buses will run for those who will be on campuses on Monday and Tuesday, and again Wednesday and Thursday, for the respective groups. Friday, all students will work from home remotely.”

Updates to reopening plan

“We will continue in-class teaching for all PreK-2 graders at our school sites Mondays through Thursdays during Yellow phases,” Hixson said. “This group represents the critical age to establish strong reading foundations. The American Academy of Pediatrics highly recommends schools make every effort to keep students in school, especially those within this age range. According to the latest press release from the AAP, ‘the AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.’ The Tennessee Department of Education agrees and has highly recommended the same. This age range is also the most difficult to effectively engage through virtual learning. Therefore, Hawkins County will make every effort to keep PreK – 2 grade students in class, four days per week, separated as much as possible during any Yellow phase events.”

Special Populations students will be given the option to receive their services and core curriculum in school during any Yellow phase event.

“As you have seen, the information coming in daily can and potentially will require adjustments to our plans,” he added. “We are trying our best to keep you informed.”

For more information, visit the system’s website at https://www.hck12.net/ and regularly check their social media sites.