No one is forcing school districts in Tennessee to close because of coronavirus, but two have now shutdown as a precaution.
State officials overseeing health and education say school systems, like those in Williamson and Dickson Counties, are left to make their own decisions.
The superintendent of Dickson County Schools received second-hand information late Tuesday that the family of a student was being tested for coronavirus. Even without confirmation, Danny Weeks decided to call off class for the rest of the week.
He acknowledges the abrupt decision may feed into existing panic about the coronavirus.
“But from our perspective, and the uncertainty that comes with it, we’d rather be secure in what we’re doing than reacting later to something that could have happened,” Weeks tells WPLN News.
Williamson County Schools also closed as soon as a case surfaced in the area last week. And one prominent expert told NPR, while difficult to do, the time to protect students is before any of them get sick.
The Tennessee Department of Education has provided a two-page guide for districts, but it’s more about how to protect students and teachers while at school: Stop using water fountains, opt for elbow bumps, look for symptoms in students.
Governor Bill Lee said Tuesday there’s no need for any schools to shutdown at this point.
A No-Win Situation
Carrie Reed is a mother of two students in Williamson County who says she tried to be understanding when public schools closed for deep cleaning. But now she’s growing frustrated as she and her husband have full-time careers. Her middle schooler is in charge.
“The two of them have been at home by themselves since Friday, and I don’t really care for that very much.” she says “It just puts a lot of strain on parents when they make these last-minute decisions.”
The district’s announcement to close Tuesday was made just hours before school was to start.
Both Rutherford County and Metro have said they plan to err on the side of remaining open. They are trying to be considerate of working parents, keep instruction on track, and continue feeding students who rely on free meals.
Extended threads on the schools’ Facebook pages, filled with contentious arguments from parents, reveal the districts are in a no-win situation. But Conie Zambrana, who has a daughter at Rockvale Middle School in Rutherford County, says she supports efforts to carry on as usual.
“I think there’s a big hysteria right now,” she says. “I think no matter what decision they make, it’s going to be inconvenient for someone.”