Metro Nashville Public Schools will begin with distance learning until at least Labor Day because of the spike in cases of COVID-19 in recent weeks.
MNPS Director Adrienne Battle said the plan was to detail how both virtual school and in-person learning would look and allow families to pick the option best for them. But the rise in cases, including a record number of 688 positive tests reported on Thursday, forced the district to shift gears.
The district is prepared for in-person instruction once cases of COVID-19 are more under control in Davidson County.
“Eventually, we anticipate community spread of COVID-19 will be low enough that we can safely reopen our school buildings to students, and we are prepared to create a safe environment for students and staff,” said Dr. Battle. “We have policies developed that will mitigate the spread of COVID-19 with detailed guidance that will be provided to schools and families so they can understand the steps being taken to keep them safe.”
Students will receive approximately 10 hours per week of real-time instruction through video conferencing. That means the bulk of the learning will be done at a student’s own pace, though virtual school will be structured with deadlines and grades will be tabulated unlike in the spring.
Instead of forcing teachers to develop materials on a short timeline, the district will utilize curriculum from the Florida Virtual School, sources said.
The back-to-school plan developed by the committee co-chaired by Battle and Dr. Alex Jahangir, who co-chairs the city’s coronavirus task force, said in-person learning would not take place if the city is in phase two of its reopening plan. Nashville Mayor John Cooper announced a modified phase two last week, as the number of positive cases and the county’s transmission rate have skyrocketed.
On Thursday, Dr. Jahangire indicated that, with steeply rising cases, a reversion to stricter phase one limits, including stay-at-home orders and the closing of nonessential businesses, could be on the horizon. “All options are on the table, frankly.”
Critically, students will be instructed by teachers from their assigned school. Some parents worried there would be a centralized instructor and students would miss out on developing connections with their teachers.
Parents will still be required to choose between virtual learning or in-person learning once the district decides it’s safe for students and staff to return to the classroom. For planning purposes, the district is requesting that parents make a selection before school starts on Aug. 4.
However, parents will have more time to make up their minds and test how virtual school is conducted before making that selection. Virtual school will be conducted through Schoology, the same online platform used in the spring during informal distance learning.
Although the district has already announced that the approximately 90,000 laptops purchased with $26 million in federal CARES Act funding won’t be available by the start of school, there are enough existing laptops to distribute to students lacking access to technology. That process is already under way, as the district identified students without computers or internet access through surveys conducted earlier this year.
Additionally, the district revealed more details about how it will respond to positive cases of COVID-19 among students or staff once classroom learning returns. Close contacts to those who tested positive will be identified through contact tracing and required to quarantine for two weeks. The district will respond to positive cases on a school by school basis. In instances of widespread outbreaks within a school, it may be necessary to close school and revert to virtual learning.
The district has plenty of personal protective equipment, including hand sanitizer and masks, which will be required in the classroom. Students will undergo health screenings, consisting of answering basic questions to check for symptoms, and parents will be asked to conduct temperature checks before students arrive each day.
Battle said at the press conference on Thursday that the start of school would focus on emotional learning and assessing a student population that has been hurt by the pandemic. Some students miss the social interaction school provides. Others have had family members get severely ill or die because of COVID-19.
Battle also said the district would meet the needs of special needs students and students with learning disabilities.