Amid a recent uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases both locally and nationally, Sumner County students will start the 2021-22 school year much as they did before the coronavirus pandemic hit Middle Tennessee in March of 2020.
Sumner County Director of Schools Del Phillips outlined the school district’s COVID-19 protocols during the July 20 Board of Education meeting. The first full day of school is Tuesday, Aug. 3.
Students and staff won’t be required to wear face coverings in school buildings or on buses; they won’t be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination; and schools won’t be performing temperature checks, Phillips told school board members.
Board members, who didn’t vote on the protocols, were handed a list of questions that Phillips said the district felt like parents were asking as the start of school approached. The information can be found on the school district’s website at www.sumnerschools.org.
Phillips also said that principals would be sharing information with parents about how the plan will look at each school campus.
Unlike the previous school year, contract tracing will be conducted by the Tennessee Department of Health and not the school district, Phillips noted.
Visitors will once again be allowed on school campuses with the hopes of restarting special events like Grandparents’ Day and individual school festivals, he said.
In addition, the school district will follow TSSAA guidelines on athletic events.
“This year we’ll follow whatever TSSAA tells us what to do,” said Phillips. “This year I do not believe they will have restrictions on attendance at games — at least they have not shared that with us yet.”
Sumner County Schools started the 2020-21 school year on a hybrid schedule with students attending in-person classes two days a week. Around 4,000 students were enrolled at that time in the district’s virtual academy as well.
Neither the hybrid or virtual schedules are permitted unless Gov. Bill Lee declares a state of emergency, according to Phillips.
“If that were to happen, we’ll come back before you,” he said.
Students who test positive for the virus should inform their school attendance office and discuss with the school nurse when the student should return to school, according to the school district’s COVID-19 policy.
Google classroom will be available for students who miss school due to the virus. Students who participate through Google classroom and communicate daily with their teacher will be counted present. All COVID-19 related absences will be excused with a parent or doctor’s note.
The school district also disclosed several preventative measures it will be taking this school year in relation to COVID-19. They include:
- The teaching and reinforcement of good hygiene measures such as handwashing and covering coughs.
- Providing hand soap and sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol, paper towels, and no-touch trash cans.
- Deep cleaning of schools prior to students/staff returning; periodic cleanings during weekends or school holidays/breaks.
- Cleaning and disinfecting buses between morning and afternoon routes and after each day’s use.
- Cleaning cafeterias and high-touch surfaces throughout the school day.
There were 505 new COVID-19 cases reported in Sumner County from July 1-21 – a two percent increase. The number of new cases increased just .46 percent during the same time period in June with 112 new COVID-19 cases reported, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.
Citizens not allowed to address board
Two citizens wanting to address the School Board about its COVID-19 protocols weren’t allowed to speak during the public comments portion of the meeting because Phillips’ COVID-19 information wasn’t listed as an agenda item and the board didn’t vote on it.
According to the school board’s policy, those wishing to address the board can only speak about agenda items.
Hendersonville resident Joanna Daniels said she tried to abide by the policy by finding out if the school district’s COVID-19 protocols would be on the agenda.
After a school board member told her that the COVID-19 protocols would be discussed during Phillips’ Director’s Report, Daniels said she showed up before the meeting and signed up to speak in relation to the Director’s Report.
When the meeting started, School Board Chairman Tim Brewer said that the board only allows public comments on voting items and did not allow the two to speak.
Daniels says that when she asked Brewer after the meeting where it states in the policy that an item must be voted on, she was told that it’s an unwritten rule.
“He told me it’s something we just do,” she said. “If it’s not written in policy, how would I know?”
Sumner County Schools Spokesperson Jeremy Johnson said on Friday the policy states that citizens may speak on agenda items only. Citizens can’t speak to a Director’s Report in much the same way that they can’t speak to the minutes, or board comments, he said.
“Because it wasn’t something that the board was considering, it wasn’t on the agenda,” he said. Johnson said that Phillips’ report was about providing information to parents about how the district would be starting the new school year in the wake of COVID-19, and that no new policies were being implemented.
Daniels says she thinks the school board should be more open to hearing from citizens.
“As a resident and a tax payer here there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be allowed to address the board if I follow the rules,” she said. “Whether their policy is legal or not – it’s just wrong.”