Sumner County Schools unveiled its plan for opening the 2020-21 academic year during the board of education’s study session last Tuesday evening.

Sumner County Director of Schools Dr. Del Phillips said the pathway to re-entry plan would utilize both in-person classes and online virtual education.

“I’m proud of what we produced,” Phillips said during the study session. “It’s not a perfect plan, but we have to remember that we have to give ourselves some flexibility in the plan. We do believe that in-person learning is the best.”

Students wishing to return to in-person classes will begin the school year on Aug. 3 with a hybrid schedule. Those with last names beginning with A-K will be in school on Monday and Thursday, while L-Z will be in school Tuesday and Friday. On days students are not in school, they will learn at home via the Sumner Connect online program. All students will learn at home on Wednesdays under the hybrid model.

For those who don’t want to send their children to school, an alternative Sumner Virtual Academy will be available for students in grades K-12. The Virtual Academy will have its own teachers and will run from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. Attendance will be taken, and students will be graded on their work. Students in K-8 must sign up for a nine-week interval, while high-school students must commit to a full semester in order to sign up for virtual school.

Parents have until Wednesday (July 22) to sign up for the Sumner Virtual Academy.

More information on the pathway to re-entry can be found online at http://sumnerschools.org/index.php/path-to-re-entry.

The hybrid model will run for two weeks and then will be reevaluated every two weeks to determine how to proceed, based on spread of the coronavirus.

The school district uses the active number of COVID-19 cases given by the Tennessee Department of Health and divides that number by the county’s population to determine minimal, moderate or substantial spread.

Minimal spread will mean by a traditional schedule of in-person classes. Moderate spread will mean a hybrid model, and substantial spread will mean remote or distance learning with school buildings being closed, according to the district’s plan.

As of Tuesday’s meeting, Phillips said that Sumner County was experiencing moderate spread and that he recommended that students start school on Aug. 3 in the hybrid level. As of Friday, there were 2,344 cases of the virus reported in the county, according to the state health department. That was an increase of almost 500 cases in a week’s time, as the number on July 10 was 1,874.

“You can’t deny that the new case count has not been good,” Phillips said. “Based on where we’re at with the current data, we’re above what we feel comfortable with having everybody show up on the first day.”

Phillips also unveiled safety measures that the district plans to implement. They include:

  • Parents will be asked to self-screen their child daily before sending them to school;
  • Schools will implement midday temperature checks of students — likely around lunchtime;
  • Face coverings will be encouraged but not required at school;
  • Face coverings will be required for students who ride the school bus;
  • Water fountains will be closed, with students encouraged to bring personal water bottles;
  • Schools will be deep cleaned on a regular basis;
  • Plexiglass shields will be installed in the front offices and at other locations deemed necessary;
  • There will be daily communication with local and state health officials;
  • There will be participation in contact tracing;
  • They will use disposable trays and pre-packaged utensils in school cafeterias;
  • They will eliminate self-serve options in school cafeterias; and
  • There will be hand sanitizer available throughout school buildings and on school buses.

If a student tests positive for COVID-19, parents will be notified by school messenger.

A student who tests positive for COVID-19 or who is symptomatic is asked to contact the school. Such students will be allowed to participate in online assignments while at home and will be required to supply either a negative test result or a note from a health care provider in order to return.

Students who have been in close contact with someone positive for COVID-19 would be “strongly encouraged” to quarantine at home for 72 hours to monitor symptoms. If the student remains asymptomatic, they may return to school.

Students will be screened when they return, and will be “strongly encouraged” to wear a mask for 14 days from exposure, according to Phillips.

Attendance will be taken across all platforms — in-class or online — but COVID-19-related absences will be excused with a parent or doctor’s note.

Sumner County Mayor Anthony Holt issued an order on July 6 mandating the wearing of face coverings in public until 12 a.m. on Aug. 3. If Holt extends the order, Phillips said that school officials would follow the mandates of local and state governments.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

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