Metro Nashville Public Schools welcomed the last of the district’s students with disabilities to classrooms Wednesday morning. Nearly 700 kids are now back in school buildings ahead of fall break. They’re the first to return to physical classrooms since the pandemic closed buildings in March.
Just after 7:30 a.m., a calm but lively group of students arrived at the entrance of Rosebank Elementary in East Nashville. A group of teachers and aides greeted them for the first day of in-person classes.
“I’m so glad to see you,” said Kellee Akers, the principal at Rosebank, as the students stood spaced a part in masks. “I missed you all so much.”
Akers gave the students an energetic pep talk and briefed them on the district’s new social distancing guidelines before they were allowed to step foot in the building.
But once she got her point across, the students were escorted beyond the entrance doors and taken to their assigned classrooms.
“I’m feeling good,” said Akers, as she prepared more students to enter. “We spent time preparing on the front end. We have the rooms ready. We have an arrival plan in place.”
Arriving in a staggered manner is one of many new norms that the district has in place for returning students to in-person classes.
For Rosebank staff and teachers, that means self-administered temperature checks and filling out the district’s COVID-19 safety checklist. It requires them to reveal whether or not they feel sick or have been in contact with anyone who tested positive for the virus.
On the other hand, students are encouraged to check their temperatures at home. But they make a pit stop at the school’s automated hand sanitizing station before entering the hallway.
“Good job,” Akers told a young student. “Just like you always do, you’re going to walk on the red tiles.”
Rosebank was renovated in previous years, so they had a slight advantage as they prepared to welcome back to school buildings.
Staff members recently placed white stickers along the walkway of the building’s entrance. But students were already trained to walk along the red tiles stretched across Rosebank’s hallways.
Akers says traditional schooling will look a lot different until the pandemic subsides. Parents won’t be allowed to enter buildings and students will have to embrace wearing masks and socially distanced seating assignments.
The transition, however, she says will be feasible for students.
“We teach children behavioral norms all the time. That’s what you do, particularly in elementary.” Akers said. “When it comes to COVID, social distancing, mask wearing and hand-washing, those are just expectations and norms, and we will teach and model them.”
After fall break, roughly 60,000 students will begin a phased return to school buildings. And there should be more room than usual. More than 20,000 students have chosen to continue remote schooling the rest of the semester.
- Oct.13: pre-K through second grade
- Oct. 20: third and fourth grade
- Oct. 27: fifth and six grade
- Nov. 4: seventh and eighth grade
- Jan. 7: ninth through twelfth grade
“We’ve provided a great deal of logistical prep … to principals,” the district’s chief of schools, Mason Bellamy, said at a board meeting on Tuesday. “Our principals are finalizing their buildings to demonstrate the way that we want our classrooms to look and feel for our students when they come back.”
The district is planning to keep the school day as normal as possible, but Bellamy said that there will be minor differences to accommodate health and safety protocols.
Generally, the rules for staff and students are to keep their bodies under control, wear masks and stay in designated areas. The district also says that while schools haven’t been given the green light to conduct mass temperature checks of students, principals will have access to enough thermometers to screen them when needed.
“There is a great risk of false positives with temperatures,” Bellamy said. “We don’t want to have situations where an asymptomatic child gets through, or a situation where we quarantine an entire school when it wasn’t needed.”