Tennessee teachers concerned with COVID-19 cases, quarantines and short staffs

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A number of educators have reached out to News 2, concerned about the drastic spike in cases and quarantines. Districts confirm that staffing has been their biggest challenge.

“There is absolutely an increased level of anxiety here among Tennessee’s educators,” said Beth Brown, president of the Tennessee Education Association. “With the pandemic, it’s been an ongoing concern, but over the past few weeks, we’ve seen case numbers skyrocket across the state and infection rates spin out of control in every single one of our 95 counties.”

More than 2,000 students and nearly 1,000 staff tested positive for COVID-19 last week, according to the state’s dashboard, and that’s not reflecting schools with less than five new cases or Rutherford County.

In Rutherford County, the school system is now running its own COVID-19 dashboard. On Thursday it showed 100 staff and 270 students out with the virus and another 2,600 in quarantine.

“There is also increased frustration and stress around the fluctuating quarantining issues for our districts who are offering in-person instruction,” Brown explained. “The constant in and out of educators and students, schools, some buildings being closed for some time and reopened.”

In Wilson County, eight schools are now remote this week, prompting the district to go entirely online for the last week before winter break.

“This is the last thing we wanted to do, however, given the latest reports and health trends from our district, we feel that this course of action is best at this time,” Wilson County’s Director of Schools Dr. Donna Wright said. “While staffing concerns remain extremely high, our goal is to make sure we do what’s best for our teachers, students, and staffs overall.”

“I learned yesterday of a number of districts who have just announced the decision to go to remote learning until after Christmas, which is certainly something that TEA applauds,” Brown added. “It is not an easy decision by any means, but considering the health, safety and well-being of our students and educators, it’s the safest option and probably the least disruptive option.”

In Robertson County, teachers raised concerns at Springfield schools. The district sending both the middle and high school online Thursday.

“Our nursing and administrative leaders monitor all 22 of our district schools daily and sometimes hourly, a practice that keeps us well-informed of our health status.” RCSD spokesman Jim Bellis told News 2 in a statement.

The TEA said students are suffering because of the disruption in learning, but they feel confident, knowing their teachers will do everything they can to get students caught up academically.

“But we’ve all got to be there to do it, we have to survive,” Brown concluded.

The TEA is also concerned about the in-person end-of-course testing mandatory for students, which takes place this week and next. They’re hoping Governor Bill Lee will execute the special session for education that he mentioned Wednesday and address many of their concerns.

For more information on what schools said about the holiday season heading into 2021, click here.

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