Middle school students in Metro Nashville Public Schools will not begin returning to their classrooms as scheduled this week. The district announced it’s hitting pause on the return to in-person classes following an emergency meeting of the school board Friday afternoon.
The announcement from Superintendent Adrienne Battle means that fifth and sixth grade students expected to return on Tuesday will remain virtual, as will seventh and eighth graders who were supposed to return early next month. The district says a new schedule for middle school students to return will be announced when spread of the coronavirus slows.
Elementary school and exceptional education students who have been reporting to school will continue to do so for the time being. Families have been given the option to stick with virtual schooling, even as classes have been returning.
While not everyone agreed with the pause, board member Freda Player-Peters says the health of students and teachers has to be the priority, especially as coronavirus cases are on the rise again in Davidson County.
“Right now, it’s more important than their discomfort. And I hate that kids are not having the great emotional experience,” she says. “But we as adults have to model resilience.”
There have been outbreaks tied to public-school sports, but city health officials say the coronavirus doesn’t seem to be transmitting within classrooms. Their experience has been mostly with private schools up until now.
Several board members voiced frustration that the city has focused on reopening bars and gyms ahead of ensuring the safety to return to in-person school. They say the school system can’t create a bubble around 100,000 students and staff.
“When transmission rates are high, that feeds back into our buildings,” board member Berthena Nabaa-McKinney says. “If we don’t have teachers to teach, our kids can’t learn.”
Last week was the first week back for kindergarten through second grade. In that week, 32 teachers and 26 students tested positive. More than 300 people had to quarantine for 14 days as a result.
Board members say they hope pausing the return to class will refocus residents who may have gotten lazy about wearing masks and keeping their distance.
The loudest detractor is board member Fran Bush, who says too many kids are being left behind in virtual education and that their future should be the top concern. She also notes that no school-age children in Davidson County have died from COVID-19.
“We are a large school district. But I’m getting really sick and tired talking about depending on community spread. The community doesn’t dictate our children’s future,” Bush says. “We can do this safely.”
Update: This story has been updated to include Metro Nashville Public Schools’ announcement that it will delay reopening middle schools.