According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of being exposed to the coronavirus (COVID-19) for most people is low. The CDC recommends taking simple, everyday steps to avoid catching or spreading respiratory diseases including COVID-19. These include covering your cough or sneeze and thoroughly washing or sanitizing your hands. Call your doctor and stay home if you are sick. Get more information at CDC.gov/coronavirus or contact the Tennessee Department of Health coronavirus information line at 877-857-2945 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. CST daily.
The Tennessee Department of Education told education officials across the state that it doesn’t have the authority to call for the statewide closure of schools amid the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to those on a Friday phone call with state officials.
Instead, the Education Department is issuing guidance to superintendents across Tennessee on how to help make “the best possible local decisions to protect the health and safety of students, schools and communities,” according to Victoria Robinson, a Tennessee Department of Education spokeswoman.
Already, schools across the state have announced closures. Those that shut down this week include Shelby County Schools, Williamson County Schools, Metro Nashville Public Schools and Knox County Schools. Nashville students are scheduled to be on spring break next week.
Robinson said the state would send guidance documents to the state’s 147 school districts by the end of the day Friday.
The call and guidance from Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn come as the number of COVID-19 cases across the state continues to jump, with the state’s health department reporting 26 detected cases as of 2 p.m. CDT Friday.
Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents Executive Director Dale Lynch said school directors across the state want to make the best decisions for their communities.
He said safety is at the forefront of every decision.
“Superintendents and directors are under a lot of stress right now to make the decision about what is in the best interest of students, faculty and staff,” Lynch said. “We are educators, and we need to lean on health officials to make the right decision for the well-being of students around COVID-19.”
Lynch said students depend on schools to provide meals and a safe environment for learning.
“This is no question (it’s) a huge disruption,” he said.
It’s unclear whether the state will cancel statewide standardized testing for students.
Lynch said lawmakers would need to make that decision. Superintendents are focused on instruction and safety, he said.
“What is most important is how we take care of our students nutritionally and health-wise and deciding when they should be in school,” Lynch said. “The accountability piece will come, and … I have confidence (lawmakers) will listen to superintendents and educators about what to do next.”
To view the guidance offered to districts, visit https://www.tn.gov/education/health-and-safety/update-on-coronavirus.html.
Reach Jason Gonzales at email@example.com and on Twitter @ByJasonGonzales.