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Tackling education amidst a pandemic

By: Atlanta Northcutt -- Reporter for Southern Standard

With the 2020-2021 school year beginning, President Donald Trump and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee are encouraging students and staff to return to school as safely as possible, but continuing to physically be in the classroom without infecting themselves, staff, family members, friends or others they may come in contact with.

However, the Tennessee Department of Health has now updated the quarantine guidelines for schools with isolation taking up to 24 days for some individuals who may test positive for COVID-19 or if waiting for a positive or non-positive test result.

The guidelines and recommendations of management of COVID-19 in schools throughout Tennessee have been updated by the TN Dept. of Health. These guidelines also change the amount of time some people should be quarantined if a person in their household has tested positive for COVID.

The Tennessee Health Commissioner explained a 24-day isolation period is necessary for some individuals.

According to, the new guidelines state a teacher or student who lives with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 must not only stay in 10 days of isolation along with the positive case, but also needs to stay in isolation for an additional 14 days.

The length of time could be different if one of the parties lives outside (and does not come in close contact with the infected person) of the home during the isolation phase.

Knox County Schools’ teachers were reportedly concerned about how the overall education environment would be impacted by the lengthier time away from the classroom.

Tanya Coats, president of the Knox County Education Association, said she has never heard of someone having to wait 24 days in isolation if a loved one in the household tested positive.

“I thought it was a misprint, because at first, when I received it, I was like, “I haven’t heard of any documentation on people having to quarantine for 24 days,” Coats said.

However, during a press conference with the Knox County Health Department on Tuesday, director Dr. Martha Buchanan said the guidelines came down from the CDC and it’s something everyone should be following if a loved one in their home tests positive for COVID-19.

“If it’s a child and say the parent is a teacher, they’re likely going to have to have contact with that child the whole time they’re not feeling well. So, that could be a 24-day quarantine period,” Buchanan said.

Coats said the guideline is difficult for teachers for many reasons, including the fact teachers aren’t given enough sick leave for COVID-19 either.

She added teachers get 10 free COVID-19 related sick days. Those 10 days would barely be enough for a teacher to stay home if they were infected with the virus themselves, and they would either have to use other paid-time off-days or not get paid at all.

“Ask the governor along with our local administration, our school board, to give unlimited sick days, paid sick days, to educators because we’re actually helping the system of going back teaching kids, but we have to pay for the 14 days just to be in quarantine? That doesn’t seem like it is equitable for educators to be in a profession that is not willing to get (them) compensated for something they have no control over,” Coats said.

Making the already chaotic first day of school even more so, Clarksville-Montgomery County students returned to school on Monday, Aug. 31, for the first time since classes were cancelled in mid-March due to the pandemic.

According to the Tennessean, school officials stated 60% of the students chose traditional schooling for the 2020 fall school year, and the remaining 40% picked the school system’s virtual school option.

Students practicing traditional learning, as well as staff, were asked to wear masks, social distance from one another and follow guidelines put in place to reduce the spread of the virus.

In Rutherford County, both online and in-school learning began Thursday, Aug. 13. Warren County Schools officially opened Wednesday, Aug. 12.

Rutherford, Warren, Putnam and a majority of other middle Tennessee counties have changed their practices in order to fight an unprecedented battle, including the mandatory wearing of masks or facial coverings, lunch being served to students in their classrooms rather than the cafeteria, temperature checks before entering the building, deep and thorough cleanings, self-protective hygiene measures and protection, and a surge in isolation and quarantine for a longer amount of time for both students and staff members who’ve been infected.

We’re all in this battle together, and we can tackle our education amidst a pandemic.

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