KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Students will be heading back to school on Monday for a new school year, after spending much of the previous one at home in virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year, education leaders implemented several COVID-19 safety restrictions inside of schools. Many required staff and students to wear masks, took temperatures of everyone inside the building and restricted visitors. Field trips and extracurricular activities were also restricted, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Those restrictions are expected to be relaxed for the 2021-2022 school year. Masks will not be required for students, teachers or employees. However, people will be allowed to wear them at their own discretion. Temperature checks will also not be required for students, employees or visitors.
Knox County Schools will not conduct contact tracing for reported COVID-19 cases, and visitors will also be allowed back in schools. Extracurricular activities and field trips will also return, according to Superintendent Bob Thomas.
Officials said educators will work with the Knox County Health Department to review guidance from the Tennessee Department of Education and the Tennessee Department of Health. They said they will respond to changes in the COVID-19 situation, coordinating with the agencies.
Student schedules should be available online at the Aspen Family Portal, officials said. Students will also continue to be provided with Chromebooks through the district's 1:1 initiative. Schools are responsible for distributing them, and officials urged families to look for communications from their school principal about the distribution process.
All students are also eligible for free breakfast and lunch meals during the 2021-2022 school year, through a program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“I am very grateful for the tremendous efforts of our students, families, and employees during the school year that ended in May," said Thomas during a work session with the Board of Education. "Despite the enormous challenges of COVID-19, our school communities worked together to ensure that our educational mission continued moving forward."
Despite Knox County Schools' relaxed policies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged everyone in schools to wear masks, regardless of whether they were vaccinated for COVID-19. The Knox County Health Department said they agreed with the CDC, urging people to wear masks in schools.
In 2020, some studies pointed to children as possible superspreaders for COVID-19. Officials said that children often may not show symptoms, but can carry the coronavirus to another child or to family members who are more at risk.