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Tennessee parents take contact tracing into their own hands

A mother said several parents are taking some initiative since she said the school system isn't doing anything to protect their kids.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A Knox County mother said she's had enough with the Knox County Board of Education. She is a part of a group of parents who are taking safety into their own hands.

Kelly Johnson has a third-grader in Knox County Schools and when she heard kids were missing from class, she wanted answers.

Spanish Version: Padres del Condado de Knox se encargan del rastreo de contactos

"The school board needs to do their job,” she said. "You're going to be ashamed of yourself because people are going to die. Maybe not children but grandparents and teachers and that blood will be on your hands. Good luck.”

Like many other parents, Johnson said she went into the school year with high hopes even though she disagreed with some of the safety measures that the board was taking.

"We all kind of went into it thinking, 'Could it be as bad as we think it's going to be?' And the short answer is, yes. Yes, it can be," Johnson said.

She is a part of a private Facebook group where parents share COVID-19-related information. In this group, she said, parents share things like if a child tested positive or was exposed to the virus. She said the group helped her realize only eight of the 18 students in her daughter's class were actually in the classroom.  

"We all started calling each other identifying who we felt, with no medical degree, but we’re trying, would be at the highest risk. So it sort of just grew from there," she said. "It's this sort of sad, depressing, child-led contact tracing for Knox County but it was the only way to do it."

Johnson said she is now keeping her daughter home too. She said nobody told her to keep her home but said it was common sense to keep her home to make sure she wouldn't accidentally spread COVID-19 to anyone.

Her disappointment in the school system is quickly leading to anger, she said.

“Call me a disgruntled mother,” she said. "They hide behind the survival rate of children when they know that that doesn't stop there. This is too contagious. We can't pretend they're not bringing it home."

Another Knox County parent, Laura Gorney, said that she understands Johnson's anger firsthand as she sits at home in quarantine.

"I have no idea where I got it," she said. "I am fully vaccinated. My mom is also positive and is fully vaccinated.”

Her daughter appears to be healthy, she said, but she's not taking any chances and is keeping her home from school too.

"I do know for a fact that there is one student in her class that is positive with COVID. I am just really disappointed in Knox County, Knox County Schools, the Knox County superintendent, Knox County School Board, the mayor, the governor," Gorney said. "I'm disappointment with all of them and just letting our kids twist in the wind this year."