School Board (2)

The Sumner County school district will unveil its COVID-19 plan for schools reopening next month on Tuesday. FILE

Despite a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in Sumner County over the past two weeks, Sumner County Schools are still on track to open Aug. 3, according to school district Spokesperson Jeremy Johnson.

Sumner County Mayor Anthony Holt issued an Executive Order Monday requiring residents to wear masks and/or face coverings in public after citing a recent spike in COVID-19 cases. There have been nearly 450 new coronavirus cases across the county in the past two weeks, according to recent Emergency Medical Services data. Holt’s order expires Aug. 3.

The recent case numbers still aren’t enough to warrant the closing of schools, Johnson said.

During the June 16 Board of Education meeting, Director of Schools Del Phillips unveiled an initial three-tiered “Pathway to Reentry” plan. The plan showed criteria for three methods of learning – traditional, hybrid and remote - based on the county infection rate.

Minimal spread of the coronavirus, or less than .5 percent would entail a normal or traditional classroom/schedule supported by Sumner Connect, the county’s distance learning platform. Under this method, masks would be recommended, but not required in close spaces.

The hybrid model would entail a modified scheduling with Sumner Connect supporting students learning at home. This would be required with moderate spread, or a county infection rate of .5 percent to 1 percent. Masks would be required in classrooms and close contact spaces where feasible, and there would be limited movement of students in the building.

Substantial spread means a county infection rate of greater than 1 percent. No students would be in school buildings, and Sumner Connect would support all students for all instruction at home.

The initial plan listed data that has been questioned by parents on social media. It states the population of Sumner County is 191,283 and says that as of June 15 there were 250 active COVID-19 cases in Sumner County. Data provided by the Tennessee Department of Health shows that there were 606 total active cases on June 15.  

Johnson admits there was confusion with the initial information provided, and said the school system hopes to clarify the information when Phillips presents the final re-entry plan to board members on July 14.

“Based on feedback we received, the way that was labeled was confusing to people,” Johnson said.

Johnson said that the county infection rate can be calculated by adding up the number of new confirmed cases for the last 21 days, dividing by the county’s population and multiplying by 100. The number of new confirmed cases can be found on the state health department’s website under “Downloadable Datasets.”

There were 531 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 between June 16 and July 6, according to Tennessee Department of Health data. According to the formula provided by Johnson, the county infection rate was .277 on July 6 – well below the .5 percent threshold needed in order for schools to move to a hybrid method.

Johnson said the calculation the school district is using was recommended by the local health department and local health care providers.

“We were advised that this was a good metric to use,” he said. “We also expect to have an ongoing dialogue with the local health department.”

Johnson said the school system would abide by all state and local government restrictions like Holt’s mask mandate, if it’s still in place.

School board members will be presented a detailed, comprehensive plan for the re-opening of schools on Tuesday, Johnson added. The plan will be released to schools and parents on Wednesday.

“We created a plan document designed to address people’s questions and outline different scenarios,” he said. “The goal is for it to be as comprehensive as possible.”

As of June 7, 1,670 Sumner County residents had tested positive for COVID-19. There have been 53 deaths related to COVID-19 in Sumner County. Half of those deaths have been attributed to a single long-term care facility in Gallatin. 

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