‘Impossible’ to predict 2021 semester as COVID-19 cases double in Tennessee schools

Keeping Schools Safe

WILSON COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — Experts warned this holiday season would bring the second wave of COVID-19 cases and Tennessee schools are feeling it.

Cases for students across the state more than doubled and staff just about doubled in the last week, but what does this mean for the rest of the month heading into next semester?

“It’s a constant game every day to fill those holes where we need and some days you just can’t do that,” said Bart Barker, a spokesperson for Wilson County Schools, “End result, it leads to an eventual remote learning setting and we’re in that situation for a third of our schools right now.”

The state’s COVID-19 dashboard shows 2014 students and about a thousand staff tested positive for the virus last week. That’s up from 754 students and 572 staff the week prior.

That impact, for example has closed six schools in Rutherford County and eight schools in Wilson County— now entirely remote due to positive cases and precautionary quarantines.

“The staffing impact has been enormous in all of this,” Barker said, adding that even finding substitutes for teachers has been difficult.

As several districts across the state are struggling to keep schools staffed, they’re finding themselves hanging on, just trying to get kids to winter break.

“It is a day by day even hour by hour process as new data comes in to see where we are,” Barker explained, “Right now, as we sit here today, we know as we approach mid-week, trends aren’t great, wish they were better. The thing is our top priority is keeping our students and staff healthy and if we have to move to a remote learning setting to close out our first semester next week, then our district is prepared to do that.”

For now, most districts including Wilson, Metro Nashville, Rutherford, and Williamson plan to continue hybrid in-person learning until the end of next week and return to the same models in January.

“This is a day-by-day situation; we get the question a lot— ‘What will spring semester look like? What will January look like?’ And as we sit here, today, December 8th, that is impossible to answer,” Barker said.

School staff have worked very hard to master maneuver the switch between hybrid in-person and virtual learning over the last eight months. Districts say they will continue to monitor cases over the break and make any necessary changes come 2021.

If anything changes for January return dates, they will make sure parents know. Those that opted to remain in full-time virtual programs will remain in those programs.

Stay with News 2 for continuing coverage of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

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