It’s been almost a year since Nashville middle and high schoolers have picked up pens and pencils inside of a Metro Nashville Public Schools classroom. The district announced it’ll finally be transitioning those kids back to face-to-face learning on Thursday at a press conference Monday afternoon.
“Starting this Thursday, Feb. 4, students who attend our contracted special-day schools Genesis Academy and High Roads School of Nashville, will be eligible to return to their buildings for in-person learning,” said Adrienne Battle, the director of Metro Schools.
The phase-in process will then move to elementary and all students with disabilities. The remaining students will be invited back through the month of February as long as the city maintains favorable COVID-19 trends. This means the district’s COVID Risk score must stay below 7 to see the phase-in process through. The score was 6.7 as of Monday morning.
Despite progress, Battle did warn that the return could be paused or reversed if she sees another rise in COVID cases. She also asked Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee to speed up the process of vaccinating Metro Schools teachers.
Battle has also asked the Tennessee Department of Health to distribute vaccines directly to the district as part of a statewide school vaccination program. Several smaller counties outside of Nashville have already begun offering vaccines to educators. The state made plans to vaccinate teachers in March.
“We want our students back in the classroom,” Battle said. “But if we see numbers spike up to the levels they reached back in December, that may not be possible.”
Metro Schools has been an outlier in Tennessee, as one of two school systems that has remained mostly virtual since the pandemic closed buildings last spring. Last week, Nashville Mayor John Cooper and the city’s top COVID advisor called for schools to reopen with proper safety protocols.
Reopening buildings, however, has been left primarily to Battle. Her decision to stay virtual has been met with protests and criticisms from Nashville parents and state officials. At the same time, Battle has received strong praise for her decision.
The plan to reopen schools calls for staggering grades over the next month.
- Thursday, Feb. 4: exceptional education students who attend contracted special-day schools
- Tuesday, Feb. 9: pre-K through fourth grade and all exceptional education students
- Thursday, Feb. 18: fifth and ninth grades, considered “transition” grades into middle and high schools
- Thursday, Feb. 25: remaining middle schoolers
- Wednesday, March 3: remaining high schoolers
Since the state’s post-Thanksgiving surge, Tennessee has seen a drop in both hospitalizations and new coronavirus cases. As of Monday, in Nashville, the transmission rate dipped to 0.82, which means that community spread of the virus is slowing dramatically.
The city also has a promising seven-day positive test rate. Nearly all of Metro’s key reopening metrics, excluding ICU bed capacity and new cases per 100,000 residents, are in the green on the city’s tracking site.
As a precaution, though, the district will be increasing safety protocols to further reduce the spread of the virus. They’re partnering with Meharry Medical College to implement a voluntary rapid testing initiative within school buildings. Families aren’t required to participate but are encouraged to opt in.
“I’m really happy to partner with Dr. Battle in getting people back into the classroom safely,” said Dr. James Hildreth, president and CEO of Meharry. “What we’re going to be doing is putting in a really rigorous program of testing [and] making sure that compliance is adhered to.”
Correction: An earlier version of the headline on this story misstated when Nashville schools will reopen. It is this week, not next week.