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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Students leave Battle Academy and head for their cars on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. Monday marked the first day of a two week trial period for Hamilton County Schools' Phase 3 scheduling.

Monday marked a moment some had been waiting for — while others considered it to be a bad idea.

For at least the next two weeks, Hamilton County Schools will follow its Phase 3 schedule, meaning every student enrolled for in-person learning will attend school five days a week and follow the normal bell schedule.

Previously, students who opted for in-person education were going two days a week on alternating schedules, with online learning the other three weekdays.

On Monday afternoon there was a long line of parents in their cars at Battle Academy in the Southside neighborhood, waiting for their kids to leave the campus for the school day.

Among those parents was Charlie Moss, whose sons are in the fifth and second grade.

Moss told the Times Free Press that his fifth grader was just adjusting to splitting his time virtually and in-person and was nervous coming back to school full time.

"It helps a lot as a working parent, but it freaks me out a little bit," Moss said. "I know a lot of parents have a lot of mixed feelings about it."

Jessie Aims said her second grader was excited about coming back to school for the whole workweek. But the mom of one has doubts about the outcome.

"I know the teachers are going to do the best they can to make it safe," Aims said. "But as any parent in this pandemic would think, what if something happens to my child?"

Some Hamilton County residents voiced what they think of the new schedule through the Times Free Press social media pages.

Frances Dickerson said on the Times Free Press' Facebook page that the new schedule "is too soon."

Neil Bennett said through the Times Free Press' Twitter page that there is "nothing wrong with it. If the virus breaks out, close them back down; but at least give them a chance."

Eric Johnson called the district's decision "insanity" on the Times Free Press Twitter page.

Matt Hughes tweeted, "Kids need to be back in school, thankful they are back five days a week."

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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / A student runs towards her car at Battle Academy on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. Monday marked the first day of a two week trial period for Hamilton County Schools' Phase 3 scheduling.

ENROLLMENT NUMBERS

ON-CAMPUS: 27,040

HCS @ Home: 14,250

VIRTUAL: 782

Source: Hamilton County Schools

 

Taking precautions

According to a news release, the decision to hold more classes in person was based on health data.

Superintendent Bryan Johnson said through an email statement to the Times Free Press that Monday was "an exciting day to have students back together in the classroom working with our great teachers."

"This morning, I began my day by riding the bus with some of our students and visiting several classrooms, and I was pleased to see our staff taking precautions every step of the way to keep our students safe," Johnson said. "We have high anticipation for the academic growth the children will experience in this important step in our reopening process."

Johnson said the district is following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations such as staying home when sick, always keeping an appropriate distance from others, wearing face coverings at school and washing hands regularly.

The district has also added extra cleaning services and dividers in classrooms and adjusted classroom space.

Last week, the teachers union publicly rejected the district's plan of a five-day-a-week schedule.

"The Hamilton County Education Association has received input from teachers throughout the county who believe that moving to Phase 3, where social distancing is simply not possible, is not the safest plan for Hamilton County Schools at this point," said Jeanette Omarkhail, Hamilton County Education Association president, in a statement.

HCEA member Aaron Fowles told the Times Free Press on Monday that he hasn't heard of any teachers considering leaving the teaching profession because of the new schedule.

On Sept. 4, district officials will announce the schedule for Sept. 14-24, and they said they will make the decision based on health data such as active cases, hospitalizations, patients in intensive care and other factors.

As of early Monday afternoon Hamilton County had more than 7,890 coronavirus cases and 74 related deaths, including two under the age of 10.

According to health department data tracked by the school district, there are 1,515 active cases in the county, up from 1,487 on Aug. 25.

Fourteen district employees have active infection, down from 15 on Aug. 25.

Twenty-four students have active infection, up from 10 on Aug. 25, according to the district's tracking website.

Contact Monique Brand at mbrand@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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