Sumner County Schools’ elementary and Pre-K students will continue with in-person classes while students in grades 6-12 will continue to divide their time between in-person and virtual classes at least until Jan. 22, the school district announced today.
The decision comes at a time when the county’s COVID-19 infection rate has hovered at or near the district’s threshold for going to an all-virtual model.
According to the district’s Pathway to Re-entry Plan, if community spread – determined by dividing the total number of active cases in the county by a population of 191,283 and multiplying by 100 – is .5 percent, the district will move to a hybrid model; if it’s one percent or more, the school system will move to a virtual model.
Although the number of active cases has risen steadily in Sumner since mid-November it didn’t reach the one percent threshold until Dec. 21 when students and staff were out for winter break. The numbers started to decline, and rose again beginning Jan. 9 when 1,913 active cases were reported yielding a one percent spread rate. The trend continued on Jan. 10 with 1,965 active cases reported and on Jan. 11 with 1,921 active cases.
On Sunday, the school district announced on its Facebook page that students would follow an extended hybrid schedule through Friday Jan. 15, but acknowledged the one percent threshold had been reached.
“If numbers remain at 1% or higher, following our district reentry plan, we will announce on Wednesday, Jan. 13 that schools will move to the virtual model for the following week (Jan. 19-Jan.22),” the district announced.
With 1,783 active cases reported on Tuesday (yielding an infection rate of .93 percent), the school district announced today that it would remain on the extended hybrid schedule instead of moving to the virtual model.
When asked why the school district didn’t move to an all-virtual model as soon as it hit the one percent threshold, Sumner County Schools Spokesperson Jeremy Johnson said the community spread rate is one of several factors the district takes into consideration when making the decision which model to follow.
“There was some confusion over the weekend about if we immediately hit that one percent, would we go virtual right away,” said Johnson. “We made the Facebook post to clarify that we are using those numbers as markers, but they don’t trigger an immediate closure.”
The decision is less about hitting the one percent mark on one day than looking at a trend over time, he said.
Johnson also said that the district is trying hard to give parents some advance notice when changes are made from one model to another.
County’s teachers await vaccines
The state’s teachers received some good news over the winter break when the Tennessee Department of Health announced Dec. 30 that K-12 teachers and childcare workers would be bumped up to Phase 1b of the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan. They had been in Phase II of the four-phase plan.
Johnson said the school district had yet to receive any vaccines for teachers though.
“At this point, only our school nurses have been vaccinated under the medical/frontline worker provision,” he said. “We do have a large number of teachers interested in receiving the vaccine, we just need the state to provide it to us.”
He said the school district hoped to receive the vaccines by the end of January.
Special session begins Monday
On Monday, the Tennessee legislature will convene for a special session on education at the request of Gov. Bill Lee.
"We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense disruption for Tennessee’s students, educators and districts and the challenges they face must be addressed urgently,” Lee said in a press release.
Preliminary data projects an estimated 50 percent decrease in proficiency rates in third grade reading and a projected 65 percent decrease in proficiency in math, according to the governor’s office.
“Even before the virus hit, and despite years of improvement, too many of our state’s students were still unable to read on grade level,” said Lee. “I’m calling on the legislature to join us in addressing these serious issues so we can equip our hardworking educators and districts with the resources and supports they need to set our students on the path to success.”
The legislature is expected to address learning loss, funding, accountability, literacy and teacher pay during the special session.