Metro Nashville Public Schools got a foretaste of what could happen if and when in-person learning returns this fall when two staffers tested positive for COVID-19 and 18 staffers were forced to quarantine following a recent planning session at Smith Springs Elementary School.
A district spokesman said one of the two staffers subsequently tested negative and no additional positive tests were reported among those who quarantined. The planning session took place earlier this month and the positive results came back on July 17 and July 19.
The positive cases and need to quarantine staffers serves as a stark warning sign before school even begins. Although neither positive test was for a full-time classroom teacher, they were both staffers who would regularly deal with children during a normal school year
MNPS will begin the first month of school strictly with online learning. The goal is for in-person instruction to return after Labor Day.
Confirmation of the positive tests provides insight into how such cases will be handled in the fall. The Tennessee Lookout asked both the Metro Public Health Department and MNPS for details about the cluster of cases following the planning session. MNPS quickly confirmed the situation and provided some details. But, the health department said “we would not provide details if there is an issue at a school.”
MNPS spokesman Sean Braisted also described how the district plans to handle screenings and positive cases should students and teachers return to the classroom as expected at some point this school year. Teachers don’t return to work until July 30, but Braisted said the Smith Springs staffers were at the school for planning and preparation for the upcoming year.
“All employees are required to go through a screening process when entering the building for temperature and symptom checks,” Braisted said, adding all employees are required to wear masks when in close contact with others. “In the event an employee tests positive, MNPS will work with the Health Department to determine the scope of any potential exposure and identify close contacts who will be required to quarantine. Additionally, our school nurses are being trained to support contact tracing efforts.”
Once a positive case is identified, it begins a two-pronged response. The first aspect of the response is for the employee who could have COVID-19 to get tested, provide a list of close contacts and determine if that person is able to work from home. Before the employee can return to work, they must present a quarantine release form from the health department.
The second part of the response relates to how MNPS and the individual school will handle a suspected positive case. MNPS officials overseeing student health services and workplace safety are contacted, and a facility cleansing protocol is initiated.
Following more information-gathering, MNPS will then provide the school principal with the necessary quarantine requirements for other staffers and students.
The Smith Springs situation comes as parents are trying to decide whether to stick with virtual learning or send their children back to the classroom. Smith Springs is located in southeast Davidson County, the Nashville area with the highest number of cases.
On Tuesday, Gov. Bill Lee advocated for districts to implement in-person instruction and said he believes it is safe for students.