July 24, 2020 10:00am

Mixed Feelings on School Plans

About half of local community leaders say classrooms should reopen for in-person instruction.

Knoxville, TN Correspondent

Civic and business leaders in Knox County appear to be as divided as the community at large on whether and how to return to school in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the latest local Power Poll, 49.75 percent of respondents said Knox County Schools should reopen for in-person instruction next month. Another 37 percent said they should not, and 13 percent said they were unsure.

Regardless of their feelings about education delivery, the vast majority of respondents said they are complying with the county Board of Health’s order to wear face masks when inside public buildings.

The results reflect the uncertainty many parents and teachers feel about the plan approved earlier this month by the Knox County school board to open schools on Aug. 17. Superintendent Bob Thomas said safety measures will include temperature-taking for everyone entering each school building every day, along with a requirement for students and staff to wear face masks.

The school system is also offering a virtual learning option for parents and students who don’t feel comfortable returning. The deadline to register for online instruction was Wednesday. Yesterday, school system spokesman Josh Flory said about 17,000 students had registered — about 28 percent of the district’s total enrollment of nearly 60,000.

Teachers who teach online classes will still be required to work from their regular assigned school building. Some parents and teachers have protested the plans, saying it doesn’t make sense to open facilities at all while the county is in the midst of its largest COVID-19 case count to date.

The plan includes contingencies for either the entire district or individual schools to close down as needed if numbers of COVID-19 cases reach sufficiently threatening levels.

Knox County Schools officials have also said they are asking local legislators to seek state relief from requirements for teacher evaluations and end-of-year standardized testing, which they said will just add more stress to what already promises to be a stressful year.

The Power Poll is not a scientific poll but a survey of views and attitudes among community leaders. The pool of Knoxville leaders surveyed has recently been expanded. You can see the full list here.

For this survey, 841 people were invited to participate and 197 returned responses. Here are the questions and results.

Power Poll Members: Do you have a friend or colleague who should be on Power Poll? Please invite them to join!

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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