How Has Farragut High School Handled COVID-19?

How Has Farragut High School Handled COVID-19?

COVID-19 swept over America in March of 2020, causing lots of schools, including Farragut High School, to close down for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year. Students were given an extended summer break, and in late August, the school year started again. Both in-person and online versions were available to the students. Most students at Farragut chose the in-person option, and the school had to prepare for both the normal challenges that a school has, along with the threat of a worldwide pandemic.

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Picture of temperature monitors at the entrance at Farragut High School from twitter @TheAnchorFHS

One of the main symptoms of COVID-19 is a fever, so temperature check stations were set up at all major entrances in the school building, requiring everyone to walk through them and get screened for a fever. The checks consist of two points where students hold their wrist above a monitor, which takes the temperature of the student, and then beeps as it displays it so that a teacher can monitor the results.

In previous years, the stairwells and main hallway have always been very crowded during class change, making it hard to move from class to class, and difficult to prevent the spread of a virus. This year we have changed the hallways and stairwells from two-way traffic to a single direction, like a roundabout. Many people were not sure if this was a measure taken for COVID-19 or just to reduce traffic.

When I asked Dr. John Bartlett, executive principal at Farragut High School, about this he said,¨It was a measure for COVID, right. The idea here is trying to keep from that cross-traffic, if you’re walking past me, I’m breathing on you and you’re catching my [breath].¨ 

This was a great safety measure taken by the school for COVID-19, which also made changing classes much easier. 

A high-risk area for transmission of the virus is the cafeteria. Masks cannot be worn while students are eating, and crowded lunchrooms and tables do not provide for good social distancing. Last school year, Farragut had three lunch periods, with limited outdoor seating, but this year they have changed to four lunch periods with lots of outdoor seating available. 

Dr. Bartlett commented on the possibility of lunch periods as a hotspot of virus transmission and said, ¨With four lunches we will be able to track where people ate, which means I won’t have to quarantine a whole bunch of people.¨ 

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Photo of students enjoying themselves in the commons with masks on. From twitter @TheAnchorFHS

During the five weeks so far in this school year, some students had to quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure. Which leads to the question: how many COVID-19 cases has Farragut High School had? 

¨We have had three confirmed cases. And all of our confirmed cases, this since school started, came from outside of the school… and of those three cases we have had 55-60 people quarantine,¨ Bartlett said.

Many people thought that school would not last longer than two or three weeks without an outbreak. Three confirmed cases in five weeks is a very low number. 

Students having to quarantine is not an ideal process, but a necessary one. The students that are in-person at school got to choose that option and preferred it rather than the virtual one, but if a student gets quarantined they must do virtual school for two weeks. Howie Sentell, a sophomore at Farragut High School, was quarantined because he sat at a lunch table with a student who had tested positive for COVID-19. 

When asked about the transition from in-person to online school, he said,¨It was pretty bad for me, because I didn’t learn that well online. I like to be hands-on and interactive, it’s better for me to learn that way (in person).  In a school environment, I focus better.¨ 

Although Sentell was not very happy about having to quarantine, he understood the importance of doing it.

Football season has started in Tennessee, and the Farragut Admirals have had three home games this year. An essential part of any high school football game is the student section. The student section is always packed tight and is always loud and rowdy rooting for the home team. Many people were afraid that Farragut and other high school teams would have to play with no fans, but this was not the case. The student section looks almost the same as it did in previous years, all though it is a little more spread out and many of the students have masks on. This raises the concern that COVID-19 could spread there at big gatherings. 

Dr. Bartlett said, ¨I have to remind them: just like anything else you’re outside with a bunch of friends . . . I have to remind them to wear a mask.¨

While the virus is less likely to spread in open-air environments, wearing masks in the student section can provide added safety and allow football games to continue for Farragut and other schools.

One of the precautions that has kept COVID-19 cases to a low number this year was the requirement of wearing a mask. Students must wear a mask when they are within six feet of another person (almost all day), with a break for lunch.

Sentell commented,¨I’m not a big fan of the mask, just because I hate wearing it . . . but I understand what it does and what it helps, and the temperature checks help a lot in decreasing COVID.¨

The biggest fear for many people was that students might not follow the new guidelines. Kids refusing to wear a mask was a concern for parents, students, and teachers, but Dr. Bartlett was not afraid the students would disobey the rules.

¨Knowing Farragut students . . .  generally, if we listen to each other and talk to each other, students will comply . . . if kids see a purpose or a reason and it makes sense to you, even if you don’t like it, generally students will comply. All over the district people are saying “what are you going to do if people refuse to wear a mask?” I’m like, my kids aren’t going to refuse to wear their masks, my kids are going to wear their masks,¨ said Bartlett. 

Bartlett’s confidence in the students is what allows Farragut to thrive as a school.

We are only on week five out of 36 weeks in the school year. The best way to keep the COVID-19 numbers low, in single digits, is by continuing the good work of following the simple guidelines. We can beat this virus, don’t let it hold you and education back.