UPDATE: (10 a.m. Saturday, March 14): Williamson County Schools School Aged Child Care program (SACC) has canceled child care services until further notice.
The cancellation was originally set for the week of spring break, March 16 through 20, and sent to parents via email on Saturday morning, but according to a voicemail on SACC’s main phone line, the program has been canceled indefinitely.
“As we continue to adapt our care plans to address COVID-19, we will be sending additional information regarding this prior to students and staff returning from spring break,” the email reads.
COVID-19, also know as the coronavirus, has shut down operations across the county and was the reasoning behind Governor Bill Lee’s declaration of a state of emergency on Thursday, followed by a national state of emergency that was declared by President Trump on Friday.
Williamson County Schools Superintendent Jason Golden and WSC Director of Communication Carol Birdsong streamed a Facebook Live video on Thursday at noon where they addressed the growing impact COVID-19 on the district.
Golden said the district had already been notifying parents about the flu season and illness prevention by way of electronic communications over the past few weeks covering basic preventative actions such as hand washing and staying home when sick before the novel coronavirus impacted the county.
“This is our story,” Golden said. “On Thursday I got a call from the Commissioner of Education, Penny Schwinn. She was nice enough to call me and give me a few minutes heads up that the governor was going to have a press conference about the first confirmed case of Covid-19 in Tennessee and that the resident was a Williamson County resident. And we knew that as large as our school system is, we serve over 41,000 students, that as active and as vibrant as our community is, that there was a good chance either that this individual had a child in the school system or that this individual or this individuals family had some interactions with some folks in the school system, because again our community is so active.”
Golden said that conversations began immediately, including with the Williamson Emergency Management Agency the Williamson County Health Department as well as with the state level Tennessee Health Department and with Franklin Special School District’s Director of Schools David Snowden.
Schools across the county then closed on Friday, March 6 and Monday, March 9 for the deep cleaning and disinfection in a process Golden said was both detailed and lengthy and focused on common areas and items such as door handles, hand rails and water fountains.
Golden said that the school didn’t know if or where there had been any direct exposure to particular areas so the schools were deep cleaned over that extended weekend. He said the district only used the second and third of the budgeted 10 climate weather days.
“We knew that was going to take some time. We closed Friday and Monday for that deep cleaning and likewise Franklin Special [School District] did the same, and so that allowed our contractors to do that work really for four days on that process in addition to doing the regular cleaning they do after school,” Golden said.
Golden said that on Monday evening the district was made aware by a self-reporting parent that they had been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus and had some unspecified contact with at least one WCS school.
Golden did not specify in the nearly 38 minute video which schools had or may have had direct contact with the patient citing privacy concerns and at the suggestion of health officials WCS decided to close Tuesday, March 10.
The Tennessee Department of Health then investigated the report and found out who the patient came in contact with and at the same time, Golden said, WCS became aware of a second patient who had also come in some contact with an unspecified WCS school, which led to the closing of schools on Wednesday, March 11.
"That's the point at which there were so many changes," Golden said, "changes locally, changes nationally."
Golden was referring to the World Health Organization's classification of the Coronavirus as an official global pandemic which was also the subject of an Oval Office address by President Donald Trump, who enacted several measures to control the national outbreak.
And while Golden did not name the specific schools of concern, he did confirm that they are in the "Brentwood area."
As previously reported, a Battle Ground Academy parent, which is not a part of Williamson County Schools, was the first person to test positive for the novel coronavirus in the state on March 5. BGA is currently holding classes online for its students.
"We were at the early stages of our safety plan with that cleaning because we had some basic preparations for in the event that these issues hit us and our community," Golden said.
Golden said that the district then chose to close the schools for the remainder of the week leading up to the regularly scheduled spring break, March 16-20, as a public health precaution, and schools will now resume on March 23.
"This is so new that the healthcare professionals are still working on those protocols and it's a very fluid situation," Golden said.
"Things are changing so quickly that our communication and how we are responding to our own health emergency, health preparedness plan, it is changing," Birdsong added.
Birdsong said that the district has a Frequently Asked Questions page that is fluid and had already changed twice before the noon broadcast with updated information.
"It is going to continue to change and update so something that you may read on there yesterday may be gone or it may have changed already today," Birdsong said.
Golden said that currently small events will be allowed to continue on a voluntary basis but that policy may change as needed, although two WCS athletic teams did participate in larger TSSAA tournaments on Wednesday and Thursday, and that athletic departments are also taking health precautions. A champion middle school cheerleading squad from Williamson County also visited the Capitol Thursday.
Some school-sponsored spring break trips will still be allowed to continue as they are voluntary trips. Golden said that the trips may be non-refundable and have been paid in advance, but he did say that staff are continuing to discuss refund policies with vendors and more information should be communicated directly to individual parents by Thursday evening.
Golden said that the WCS School Aged Child Care program is still functioning because it’s a much smaller group of people in a smaller area, noting that attendance has dropped in the past few days with around 15 to 40 people present.
Golden also expressed his concern for teachers, administration and other staff members saying that they’re health was important as well, noting that as the novel coronavirus is especially dangerous to the elderly or those with auto-immune vulnerabilities, that if a SACC worker did not feel comfortable in the environment due to the virus that they should stay home. He noted that they may not be able to continue the program if they don't have enough staff.
"Our staff is a group of folks that I'm very concerned about as well," Golden said. "I'm going to make sure that we're respectful to our staff and honor them and protect their health just as much as we're protecting the students and the families of all our children.
Birdsong and Golden took questions from parents on Facebook where they addressed steps to help families who are on subsidized meal plans in order to make sure that students who may receive the majority of their meals at school don't go hungry.
The United Way of Williamson County, Graceworks Ministries, One Gen Away and The Well were listed as local agencies assisting WCS and WCS students locally as well as noting that the USDA is working nationally to provide help for children on free and reduced lunch if the virus has a longterm impact on schools.
Golden said that the district has moved the end of the of quarter by three days to March 25, and that report cards will be delivered at a later undetermined time.
Golden said that before spring break is over the district will post more information for parents, including the plan going forward and the possibilities of continuing education with online classes. He said that the district does have state standards to meet as well as considerations for their students with disabilities.
WCS has another Facebook Live video scheduled for March 25, but said they will continue to update parents and staff through direct electronic communication as well as updating the public through news releases and social media.