‘Having everybody crammed back in is a little concerning’: Tennessee teachers gear up for reopening schools

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RUTHERFORD COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — The countdown is on for the new school year, which starts in about two weeks for a lot of Middle Tennessee students.

“REA, just like everyone is just hoping for a more normal year but we cannot deny the fact that COVID is still out there,” said Rutherford Education Association President Geneva Cook. “The new variant has caused the numbers to have an uptick again so that is concerning.”

The Rutherford County School District welcomes students back into classrooms on Aug. 6 for a two hour day. Cook said teachers are glad to see they’ll be provided with the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE).

“We’ll still have the anti-virus spray for the desks, we’ll still have the alcohol wipes for the laptops or anything else that people are touching,” she said.

However, she said the biggest concern is the inability to do social distancing with all students returning to classrooms.

“Social distancing will be very very difficult if not impossible in some instances,” said Cook. “As I went and started setting up my classroom this week and saw all those desks in my room I was a little taken aback by that, a little nervous thinking about all those kids in the classroom, you don’t know who’s been vaccinated and who hasn’t.”

She explained it’s a different approach compared to starting the previous school year at the height of the pandemic.

“Last year, although it was a scary year we really had so few students in the hallways, in between classes because I’m at the high school,” she recalled. “In the classroom, we were able to keep those desks six feet apart most of the time, most teachers were and that made us feel a lot safer so having everybody crammed back in is a little concerning.”

Still, she explained that based on the CDC’s recommendation and information from the Association of Pediatricians, masks are not required for students in Rutherford County but remain an option for those who want to wear them.

“I believe quite a few will wear masks,” said Cook. “I didn’t teach at summer camp but went to several schools while that was going on and I just noticed that wow a lot of students are wearing masks so I feel like there will still be a lot of that so I think we’ll all be like hey, great, glad you’re here, let’s get started.”

Students and faculty in Memphis will be required to wear masks for the upcoming school year regardless of vaccination status.

“The likelihood that children will get seriously ill is incredibly low with regard to COVID. That’s one of the reasons I think school districts have made the decision not to require masks for children. I don’t think they should,” said Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Lee. “I hope they don’t make that decision to require masks for children in our state. We have protection for adults, available to any adult that wants it.”

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