Government officials are encouraging Tennessee school districts to reopen with private lessons – including calling for quarantine periods for those with coronavirus symptoms, health and safety supplies for teachers, and millions of grants to help fund technology.

“Make no mistake, extended time away from the classroom is bad for children,” Gov. Bill Lee told a news conference on Tuesday. “We fully support the opening of our schools with personal training as the best option. Planned delays must be reserved for the most extreme situations.”


Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwin did not order the resumption of private classes, but said they expected all areas to return students to campus.

“When we think about the new school year, the main priority of the department will continue to be to provide safe and healthy schools for children and staff and to provide a high quality education for all children,” Schwin told a news conference.

Health protocols that are expected to be followed by the regions

Public education and health departments have jointly established protocols that all districts are expected to follow how to respond to confirmed COVID-19 cases and when to close schools, although some school districts across the country have already worked with local public health officials, to establish criteria specific to their own communities.

Some areas have already started classes, while others are ready to start next week – including Metro Nashville Public Schools. Nashville students will start the year remotely.

Tennessee Public Health Commissioner Lisa Pierce said it should be rare for an entire area to close again.

“I think we’ve all made it clear today that classroom training is the best and should be the starting point, and then you need to look back on that,” Pierce said. “We have helped the Ministry of Education with a very detailed plan on how to deal with cases when they happen. … We do not want to put anyone at risk. But we also know that if a fireplace is contained in a classroom, you probably don’t need to close the whole building. “

According to the plan unveiled on Tuesday:

  • There will be a 10-day sick window for anyone who tests positive for COVID-19. They should be isolated at home for 10 days from the onset of their symptoms or 10 days from the date of the test.
  • There will be a 14-day quarantine period. Anyone who has been 6 feet in 10 minutes or more than anyone with COVID-19 should be quarantined at home since the last time they were with that person.
  • The state provides personal protective equipment, including masks, for each “school participant” who wants or needs it, thermometers for each school and face shields for each staff member.
  • The state says it will spend $ 77 million to provide a classroom kit for up to 80,000 teachers of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies.
  • There will be a $ 11 million grant program to strengthen distance learning programming.
  • The state says a $ 50 million grant initiative is already available to support school districts with technology purchases.
  • In addition to outlining the procedures for reopening the school, the district governor announced a plan to allow the return of school sports.

Make it open again as worries increase among teachers

Lee and Schwin continue to urge schools to reopen in person this fall, despite ongoing jumps in coronavirus cases in the state and requests from some teachers to stay online until the virus is stopped.

This week alone, professors in Nashville, Knoxville and Memphis gathered to mock funeral processions, “deaths” and other protests calling on Lee to issue a nationwide mandate, as well as to provide more funding for health and safety measures and access to technologies in public schools.

On Monday, after meeting with White House counselor Dr. Deborah Birks, one of the country’s top coronavirus officials, Lee said he thought rebuilding schools personally was best for children.

Lee and Schwin argue that school closures pose risks to vulnerable children who are trapped in homes where there is a potential for abuse or neglect, children who do not have access to nutritious food, and even the mental and emotional health of children.

Schwin argues that many families depend on schools not only for academia but also for support services and even just a safe place for their children to go during the day while parents have to go to work.

Schwin and Pierce emphasized the reduction in reported cases of child abuse and the increase in student hunger as some of the consequences that the state sees of students being out of school for long periods of time.

Although there is no clear consensus among public health or medical experts on the significant role that children play in the spread of COVID-19, recent data show that older children and adolescents are just as likely to spread the virus as adults.

Most children under the age of 18 who take COVID-19 experience mild symptoms and fully recover within one to two weeks, according to medical experts, but at least four children under the age of 18 have died in Tennessee after contracting the virus. .

People under the age of 20 make up 16% or 15,351 of cases in Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Department of Health on Monday.

The increase in cases has led to many school districts rejecting the start of their school years, including Shelby, Wilson and Knox counties.

But on Tuesday, Lee called for school districts to open on time, saying any planned delays should be reserved for more “extreme situations.”

Coronavirus cases are already appearing in schools

The concern is that when children return to school and spread the virus to their peers, teachers and their families, children may cope with OK, but adults who surround and care for them may not.

In East Tennessee, just days after schools in the city of Alcoa began welcoming students to a class last week, a man from Alcoa High School tested positive for the virus.

Families were notified on Friday and it is unclear how many students or staff were exposed to the individual.

If notified, the student will have to quarantine for 14 days, unless a doctor’s note or negative test indicates that it is possible to return sooner. Students are expected to continue working digitally, but are not allowed to attend school or any school activities.

And on Tuesday, Oak Ridge schools said a high school employee tested positive for COVID-19. Oak Ridge schools start on Wednesday.

Contrary to the state’s approach to making public the number of cases and deaths of COVID-19 that occur in long-term care facilities, Pierce said such information would not be published for Tennessee schools.

She said such information was more likely to come from local school districts.

Asked if thousands of students and faculty who hire COVID-19 could force the state to change course, Lee said Tennessee would maintain its current approach with data-driven decisions.

“There will be a nationwide experiment in this,” he said. “But it’s a nationwide commitment to children.”

Criticism of the plan quickly emerged

Tennessee Democrats stabbed Lee, arguing that his plan did not follow the instructions of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Democrats have highlighted some of the CDC guidelines, which say schools should reopen only if community transmission speeds are under control, according to the party statement.

“The lives of children, parents, teachers, staff and administrators are nothing to experiment with,” the party said in a statement.

Hundreds of Tennessee doctors, urging schools not to open in person, also spoke out against the plan on Tuesday.

“We have clear guidelines that state that Tennessee is experiencing an outbreak and we are not in control of it as long as we can safely open schools,” said Dr. Stephen Heyman, a critical care physician in Tennessee, speaking on behalf of ProtectMyCare, a coalition. from doctors who have been found throughout the coronavirus pandemic: “We can’t open schools until we control this pandemic.”

Reach Joel Ebert at or 615-772-1681 and on Twitter @joelebert29.

Megan Mangroom covers her education in Nashville for the USA TODAY Network – Tennessee. Contact her at Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

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