The COVID-19 pandemic has put Nashville families on a wild rollercoaster ride since Metro Nashville Public Schools went predominately virtual last spring.
The majority of students haven’t seen the inside of a classroom in about 10 months. This is compared to smaller, surrounding districts who’ve provided a somewhat consistent in-person option for students.
But as the virus slows and vaccines become more widely available, the district is making plans to phase kids back into school buildings as long as there is consistent progress. Vaccines are expected to be made available to Metro Schools teachers next month.
“I am optimistic about the numbers we’re seeing lately,” said Adrienne Battle, the director of Metro Schools. “And hope the community will continue to do its part to reduce transmission of the virus — so that we can do that as soon as possible.”
Metro Schools started out the 2020-2021 school year virtually, made a slight transition to in-person learning after Labor Day, then went back online after a surge in daily cases in November.
Battle says she’s optimistic that students will be back in physical classrooms, but that a return this school year isn’t guaranteed.
The district will announce potential phase-in dates after its COVID Risk score, which measures whether its safe to reopen buildings using metrics provided by the Metro Public Health Department, drops below a 7. The score is currently at an 8. It’s expected to drop in the coming days.
“Once we get to that point, we will release some anticipated dates for returning students to the classroom, starting with our students with the most exceptional needs, and pre K-4 students,” said Battle.
She says the remaining students would be phased-in following several days of sustained progress.
Pressure to reopen builds
The district was recently criticized by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee for not providing a face-to-face option for students. Republican lawmakers have filed a bill that would take away funding from districts operating all-virtual, though it did not pass during last week’s special session on education.
The update also comes after an intense reopening debate that played out on social media during the weekend. The Metro teacher’s union filed an ethics complaint against school board member Fran Bush, who has been a vocal advocate for reopening classrooms.
Bush is accused of encouraging teachers to quit their jobs if they didn’t want to return to in-person classrooms. She told WPLN News that she was exercising her “constitutional right” of being able to voice her concerns, and didn’t think her comments were unethical.
During the board meeting Tuesday evening, Bush pushed back against the district’s forthcoming phase-in plan, and questioned why families who were struggling with virtual learning weren’t able to return immediately. She cited truancy issues and that schools weren’t super-spreaders.
“We have to understand the crisis that we’re in right now,” said Bush. “And that’s something that we have to start talking about.”
Separately, board member Gini Pupo-Walker raised the question of whether exceptional education students could return sooner rather than later. It is unclear, however, if this will be an option.
WPLN’s Ambriehl Crutchfield contributed to this story.