When it comes to the question of whether schools will be able to return to a sense of normalcy when they reopen in August across Tennessee, there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
A decision boils down to individual school districts and even individual schools as educators and parents continue to come to terms with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The first day of the 2020-21 school year for Williamson County Schools is Aug. 7, and Superintendent Jason Golden is optimistic buildings will be open to all teachers and students based on pinpoint direction the district has received from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Tennessee Department of Education.
That was the main message he presented to Board of Education members and district staff at Thursday night’s remote work session. It will be a truly local choice, according to Golden.
“What we’ve learned from the CDC guidelines and from the state is, the CDC has presented a list of choices for us and every local entity,” he said, “and we make decisions based on what’s feasible for us and what’s appropriate based on what’s going on [with the virus] in Williamson County.”
There are four conditions that determine a school district’s status come opening day. If there are no active cases of COVID-19 in a particular community, schools resume under normal operations. At the other extreme, a high spread of the virus (greater than 1% of active cases) in a community’s population means remote learning only with just a few select students in a building.
A medium spread (0.5% to 1%) also results in remote learning only with select students and a few activities allowed in the buildings or on campus. Williamson County is currently in the category of low spread (less than 0.5%), with the most recent number of 263 active cases accounting for 0.1103% of the population.
Golden also pointed out that as the school year progresses, there could also be closures of an individual school. If, say, there was illness detected in a building and it needed to close for cleaning, that would be limited to that building only and not the whole district.
Board members had several questions and comments after Golden’s presentation. KC Haugh, 11th District, said the narrowed options are much more helpful than a framework guidance recently released by the Department of Education.
“This has been at the absence of state guidance,” Haugh said. They have a 44-page document that has a good framework, but it doesn’t have much in terms of prescriptive practices.
“The other thing implicit in here is that if families want to have in-person classes starting Aug. 7, avoiding that 1% threshold is going to be essential. It’s important for all of us to realize that we play an important role in that.”
Golden echoed that, especially emphasizing that families keep sick children home.
“Our No. 1 goal is to be in school,” he said. “We have concluded … that we could have a really good remote learning plan and we’re going to have it in place. But we all know there is not a full complete substitute for actually being in school.
“So I can’t stress enough the parent participation in making sure that if their children are sick to keep them home that day. That is really going to be a big driver for us.”
Click here to view the entire work session from Thursday night. Golden's presentation titled 2020-21 School Year Instruction Planning/Operation Update can be found here.