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Schools reopening to a "new normal"

By: James Clark -- Editor for the Southern Standard

An unmasked Layla Woodlee is pictured during the first day of school in Warren County in August 2019. The first day of school will look much different this year.

Schools bells will be ringing Wednesday morning, but only for about half of all Warren County students.

Classes begin Wednesday in the Warren County School System for students with a last name that starts with A-L. Students with a last name M-Z report Thursday.

“The first two days we are really going to work them through the logistics of what we’ll be doing,” said Director of Schools Grant Swallows. “By dividing it up the way we have, there are going to be less students than in a traditional learning environment.”

Students and teachers are required to wear masks while at school.

“We’ll try to provide them mask breaks as much as we can,” said Swallows. “If we can have situations where students are at least 6 feet apart, they can take the masks off.”

The school system’s Virtual Instruction Program has resulted in more than 1,200 students opting not to attend school in a physical building for the first nine weeks. When the absence of those students is combined with essentially dividing classes in half, most teachers are looking at class sizes between 6 and 10 students.

Buses will run as scheduled beginning Wednesday morning. Because only about half the student body will be going to school on the first day, that is viewed as a way to allow social distancing on buses.

Temperatures will be checked before students and teachers enter school buildings. Students will be allowed to eat in school cafeterias as space permits. The cafeteria staff will be serving breakfast and lunch.

“Our school cafeterias are different sizes,” said Swallows. “The first option is for students to eat in the cafeteria if it’s big enough and social distancing is possible. After that, they can eat in their classroom or the gym. Certainly one of the benefits of returning to school is it gets students two hot meals a day. That’s a big positive for returning to school so our cafeterias will be up and running.”

To help keep the environment sanitary, Swallows said the state is providing an abundance of products such as facemasks, hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes to schools throughout Tennessee. Masks will be provided for anyone who needs one.

It will be a new look at WCHS where executive principal Clark George says one of the most noticeable differences will be far fewer students.

The high school typically has around 1,800 students, but that number has been reduced by about 350 due to students opting for remote learning through the Virtual Instruction Program.

With the remaining students being divided roughly in half, there will be plenty of room to roam.

“We’re looking at about 725 students each day,” said George.

The cafeteria will not be utilized. Instead, students will eat in classrooms. Food carts will circulate in the halls.

George said all classrooms are stocked with cleaning supplies and school officials and students will be required to wear facemasks to help stem the spread of COVID-19. Much work has been dedicated to reopening schools, he said.

“It has been a lot of planning,” said George. “We’re trying to make it as normal as possible during this abnormal time. The teachers are geared up and we will all be working to keep everyone safe. We think we have a great plan and we’re ready to have a great first day.”

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