Nashville presents plan for reopening schools

Dr. Adrienne Battle

Metro Nashville city leaders have released a Nashville Plan for re-opening schools this fall with protocols and guidelines in place to protect students, staff, and families from the potential spread of COVID-19 while in schools. The guidelines are based on the level of community spread at the time of schools reopening and throughout the school year.

“MNPS students and their families have worked hard to continue their education through remote and virtual learning,” said Mayor John Cooper. “They’ve showed resiliency and finished the 2020 school year strong. Nashville’s Plan for Reopening Schools is built on public health best practices, and we will do everything possible to safeguard our students’ health as they return to their classrooms for the 2020-21 academic year.”

The Nashville Plan was developed by a task force chaired by Dr. Adrienne Battle, director of Metro Nashville Public Schools, and Dr. Alex Jahangir, chair of the city’s COVID-19 task force. Included in the planning were representatives of independent schools, Catholic schools, charter schools, health care leaders and emergency management experts from within and outside of Metro Government. The plan is based on guidance released from Opportunity Labs and resulted from a collaboration of public health leaders and education experts.

“Nashville has made a lot of progress, and we are optimistic for a return to some sense of normalcy in August, but we must be vigilant to ensure the safety of all when doing so,” said Dr. Battle. “A unified framework for all schools will give families a clear direction for where the city is going to be in the fall, with the flexibility necessary for individual schools and organizations to develop their own plans based on the needs of their students.”

Nashville’s Plan includes a review of the science known about COVID-19 and the risk of community spread, as well as metrics for determining which of the three scenarios schools would operate under based on the reproductive number of the virus.

“We’ve learned a lot about COVID-19 over these last three months, and we are sure to learn more by the time schools re-open,” said Dr. Alex Jahangir. “We must all be forward-thinking in our approach and ready to adapt and respond to changing circumstances so that we can ensure a safe and high-quality learning environment for all students in Nashville.”

The plan’s recommendations have operational minimum guidelines based on three levels of community spread of COVID-19:

No spread to minimal spread:

Corresponding to Phase 4 of the Roadmap, schools would operate under relatively normal conditions under this scenario. Steps taken would be similar to what occurs during a normal flu season.

Minimal to moderate spread:

Corresponding to Phase 3 of the Roadmap, schools would engage in significant social-distancing protocols to reduce potential contact between staff and students. Masks would be worn in common areas, entrances and exits would be limited, large-scale assemblies would be discontinued, hallways would be made one-way in certain circumstances, meals would be eaten in classes when possible or schools would enact social distancing policies in cafeterias.

Significant spread:

Corresponding to Phase 2 or less of the roadmap, school facilities would be closed. Students would learn remotely whenever possible.

Each school, organization, or district will develop their own specific implementation plans for how to operate under the three scenarios outlined. Unique challenges, such as vulnerable student populations, facility capacities, or successful implementation of remote learning in an equitable fashion, must be considered when developing plans for implementing the framework.

Metro Schools has convened an internal task force with working groups to identify needs and challenges with implementing the framework identified in Nashville’s Plan. More detailed reopening plans specific to MNPS will be released during the week of July 6. It is anticipated the system should be able to say which of the three scenarios schools will start with at that time so that parents and staff have adequate time to prepare.

The announcement by Mayor John Cooper that he would be seeking the use of the city’s CARES Act funds to support remote learning will free up MNPS Cares Act funds to use for capital and operational expenses related to creating a safe COVID-19 learning environment.

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