Knoxville Schools anticipate closure extension

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The Knoxville Community School District is, as of April 1, set to return to the classroom on April 13. However, Superintendent Cassi Pearson anticipates that Gov. Kim Reynolds will extend the school closure recommendation at the Governor’s press conference at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, April 2.

Pearson told the school board at a special meeting Wednesday night that she expects the Governor’s recommended minimum date to reopen will be April 30. The governor alluded to more information being released tomorrow about school districts in today’s press conference.

COVID-19 dominated much of the board’s discussion, as well as action. A temporary policy – set to expire Dec. 31, 2020 – was approved to allow special unemployment benefits to district employees who either have the virus themselves or a family member. This temporary policy goes into effect April 1, and was required of the district as part of the federal CARES Act.

While the school buildings are closed, administrators and building leadership teams have been working on more in-depth online learning opportunities for students. After next week, Pearson anticipates these programs to be ready for all grade levels.

The Department of Education has approved new guidelines that allow districts to either make the online lessons voluntary or mandatory. Prior to this, districts could not compel students to do the lessons.

To make it mandatory for all students, there has to be equal access and the specialized education plans designed for designated, individual students have to be continued. Pearson said there are 54 middle school and high school students who do not currently have home Internet access in Knoxville.

“It’s going to be hard for most schools to move to the required learning,” Pearson said.

The concern was raised regarding the closure of the Joel Tonda Tennis Courts. Board members have seen young people playing on them since the recommendations to limit interpersonal contact. Pearson indicated that she and Mayor Brian Hatch intended to meet after Wednesday’s board meeting to find a way to close the courts. Enforcing the closure is where it can be difficult.

Throughout the meeting, Pearson emphasized that, though this is a difficult time, no one should stress about the students’ education. Whatever needs a child has when school buildings reopen, they will be met, Pearson said.

“You’re doing a fine job of communicating during these extraordinary times,” Board President Marty Duffy told Pearson. This was later echoed by Larry Scott.

“This whole thing is new to all of us,” Scott said. “You’re doing a great job.”

The district has a section on its site dedicated to COVID-19 news.

Look to the Marion County Tribune for more on the coronavirus’s effect on Knoxville Schools as information becomes available.