Districts could be forced to change instructional methods in TN schools if COVID-19 case counts increase

Updated: Aug. 12, 2020 at 4:57 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - As students head back to class this year, cases of COVID-19 in schools are expected. And so far, multiple districts in Tennessee that have started back in-person have seen cases.

Individual districts have been told by the Tennessee Department of Education to have policies in place for dealing with COVID-19 cases, as well as for notifying the health department.

“You should stress to your child if they’re going back to school that they’re listening to their teachers about social distancing and wearing a mask, and they’re washing their hands a lot,” said Dr. Jeff Warren, a member of the Memphis City Council and a member of the local COVID-19 task force.

Warren indicated parents should know the only guarantee this school year is a little uncertainty.

“The key thing we’ve got to keep doing as a community is we’ve got to keep monitoring this very carefully. And the task force is going to monitor this with the school systems,” he said.

TN Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said Tuesday the department launched a new dashboard to keep parents updated about school schedules and modes of learning, which are likely to change within districts dependent on COVID-19 cases.

“With school re-opening, there will always be challenges and hiccups that we are overcoming,” she said.

However, the dashboard does not have information displayed about the number of COVID-19 cases within schools.

Multiple districts, mostly in middle and eastern Tennessee have adjusted instructional methods since classes began because of spread of the virus, according to the Tennessean newspaper in Nashville.

Guidance from the state to school districts instructs them to have a plan of action, with messages and letters ready to go for parents and staff when a confirmed case is located within a Tennessee school.

The state said districts also should have one individual selected to report COVID-19 issues to the health department.

“Our districts have been working through those protocols as expected for those that we’ve been in contact with in the first few weeks,” said Schwinn.

The state said any student or staff member with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or a positive COVID-19 test must isolate for 10 days.

Students or staff determined as a close contact, within 6 feet for greater than 10 minutes, must quarantine for 14 days. The state said neither isolation nor quarantine is optional.

The state also has not mandated masking in schools but is encouraging it, saying it is the decision of the school districts themselves.

A CDC grant will pay for eight staff members across the state from the TN Department of Education to work with local schools to support child well being checks to make sure students not in school are receiving nutrition.

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