Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee answers questions concerning the state’s response to the coronavirus Monday, March 16, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn.
(The Center Square) – As nearly every school district in Tennessee prepares to bring students back to campus for in-person learning this year, the Tennessee Department of Education released guidance for safe school reopening Tuesday afternoon.
Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said in a news conference Tuesday that 145 of the 147 school districts in the state have plans to open for in-person learning this year. Several districts have delayed reopening for one or two weeks to ensure adequate time to prepare to reopen safely.
“In-person learning is the medically sound, preferred option,” Gov. Bill Lee said in a statement. “Our state is doing everything we can to work with local school districts and ensure that in-person learning is made available in a way that protects the health and safety of our students and educators, and this plan helps us accomplish that goal.”
In-person learning is the priority, but the state’s plan includes technology such as 250,000 laptops, tablets, and wifi devices for distance learning, and community meal distribution plans for when closures occur. The guidance also includes a plan for implementing classroom, hallway or schoolwide closures when necessary to prevent community spread within a school.
“Our reasonable expectation is that there will be positive cases in schools, that is something that is going to happen,” Schwinn said. “What is important is that we have all the safety and health protocols in place to ensure that folks have the resources they need.”
When a student, teacher or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, they will be required to isolate at home for 10 days from the onset of symptoms, or 10 days from their test date. Fever must be gone for at least 24 hours before resuming usual activity. A negative test will not be required. Anyone who comes within 6 feet of a COVID-19 patient for 10 minutes or more will be required to quarantine for 14 days.
The state is providing 80,000 classroom disinfecting kits to prevent teachers from needing to purchase their supplies out-of-pocket. Kits will include a year’s supply of face masks, disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer. Schwinn said that the kits are currently being processed, and distribution will be prioritized based on school reopening dates.
The state is also providing 27 million disposable face masks for students, and free personal protective equipment, thermometers and face shields at no cost to schools.
Lee said that his goal is to empower parents to choose the best educational option for their families.
“Providing parents a choice in their children’s education is incredibly important,” Lee said.
Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey encouraged parents to keep up with their children’s routine immunizations. Piercey noted Tuesday that 43 percent fewer immunizations were reported in April 2020 compared with April 2019.
Also Tuesday, Lee announced that he will issue an executive order to allow contact sports to resume in the state, as long as coaches and athletes follow requirements of the TSSAA, or equivalent guidelines.