Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) announced Monday that phased in-person learning would begin this week. The news was presented at a press conference on Monday. MNPS Board Chair Christiane Buggs, MNPS Director Dr. Adrienne Battle, Meharry Medical College President and CEO Dr. James Hildreth, Meharry Medical College Senior Vice President for Institutional Advancement Patrick Johnson, and Nashville Mayor John Cooper were present.
According to the reopening plan, special needs students at Genesis Academy and High Roads School of Nashville will return to classrooms on Thursday. Then, preschoolers, K-4 students, and those with exceptional needs may return starting February 9. Grades 5 and 9 may return on February 18, followed by grades 6, 7, and 8 on February 25. The last to return will be the remainder of high schoolers – grades 10-12 – on March 3.
Buggs warned that, despite the plan to reopen schools, everyone should still be careful. She petitioned Governor Bill Lee for more vaccines, and to make them available to teachers immediately.
Battle added that they’d been consistent and transparent in their decisions to reopen or close schools based on pandemic metrics. Additionally, Battle noted that the plan to reopen schools wouldn’t be a done deal. If cases spike again or more outbreaks occur, schools may return to entirely virtual learning.
Cooper claimed that they know more about COVID-19 than they did before. He revealed that the rates of cases and infection continue to diminish across the community.
However, MNPS District 6 board member Fran Bush disagreed with the notion that they’d based their decisions on safety and improved knowledge. In an interview with The Tennessee Star, Bush claimed that she and other officials were advised by endless doctors and scientists as early as last summer that they could – and should – return students to in-person learning.
“I did not agree to give Dr. Battle this power to make those kinds of decisions. We were advised by Dr. Kathryn Edwards on our COVID task forcef back in the summer. According to her expertise and research and science, she advised us that we could transition back safely with the PPE (personal protective equipment) and other protocols. Dr. Battle has completely ignored those suggestions,” asserted Bush. “We did not do our due diligence. The administration could’ve done a lot better planning.”
All of MNPS closed their doors to in-person learning shortly after Thanksgiving, as The Star reported. Bush stated that MNPS officials were aware that cases would spike during the winter months, and knew that transitioning students to distance learning back in October would’ve likely been the better choice.
“Right now we’ve spiked up to 20,000 students in the truancy rates. If we would’ve done what she’d suggested, we wouldn’t have our high truancy rates. Over 6,000 students left our district – financially it hurts our district,” stated Bush. “To put your house on the market and leave – that says a lot about how parents felt about how we handled this. They left and went to other counties, or they went to private schools, or they decided to homeschool.”
Bush revealed to The Star that nearly four dozen doctors and several neighboring counties had sent MNPS a petition to reopen the schools. She alleged that the coalition of physicians and community officials had questioned the veracity of the public health metrics being used.
“A lot of times, you all don’t see what we see. We had 45 doctors to sign a petition to get kids back in the classroom,” stated Bush. “They were saying, whatever metrics that we’ve been using, they don’t understand it. We also had surrounding counties sign onto the petition. They don’t take the time to do petitions. They were adamant to say that our metrics were incorrect – and they’re doctors. That, to me, was a huge indicator that whatever was being used [to determine school closures], they didn’t even agree to it. This is mind-boggling.”
Bush informed The Star that she’s had her concerns about Cooper and Battle in their approaches to school closures. She noted that she was unfortunately the only board member who was unsettled by the decisions being made.
“Our schools are not on an equal playing field right now. We could’ve done better,” stated Bush. “And the children are suffering tremendously. Our kindergartners and first graders and second graders aren’t reading properly. Virtual learning should’ve been temporary. It should’ve never lasted this long.”
As for Buggs’ plea for vaccinations, Bush shared that state officials are waiting on the next round of vaccines to arrive so that they can prioritize teacher vaccinations. That’s not to say that some teachers haven’t been able to receive a vaccine, however. Counties with smaller elderly populations have reportedly been able to administer leftover vaccinations to teachers, so as not to waste the dosages.
Additionally, Bush noted that teachers have received help in other ways from within their communities.
“Teachers say they’re in a good space. There are a few other things they need: Clorox wipes, for example. We are trying to help facilitate that,” shared Bush. “Parents are wanting to do more, as our students are transitioning. Let Nashville Parents Choose group – they’ve been very loud about supporting our students back in person. They have actually mobilized on their [social media] page[s] about asking teachers what they need, and offered to help support that. That’s been incredible. What we don’t want is anyone pitting parents against teachers. That’s not what we’re saying – we want to work together.”
MNPS hopes to have all students, K-12, learning in person by the beginning of March.
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