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Tennessee Schools Closing After Outbreaks Are Taking Caution a 'Bit Too Far,’ Says Health Chief

TN Photo Services (File)

At least four school districts in Middle Tennessee that recently reopened are now struggling with new cases of coronavirus.

This has caused some of their schools to close until further notice. But Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey says that might be an overreaction.

Piercey told WPLN News in an interview Monday that districts closing schools due to coronavirus cases might not be following the state’s guidelines on school reopening.


“What we are seeing is erring on the side of caution maybe taken a little bit too far,” Piercey said.

She said the document put out by the Tennessee Department of Health, in conjunction with the Department of Education, makes it clear what school leaders need to do during outbreaks.

“And the whole goal of that is to narrow it to the smallest geography possible in order to preserve the operation of the school,” Piercey said. “Because there are lots of folks who still continue to need that education who weren’t exposed.”

Piercey said she understands districts and parents want to be cautious, but that there is no scientific evidence that says closing down schools might be safer after an outbreak has been detected.

Decision-Making Process

Piercey told WPLN News she will be sending her own kids to school. She said she feels it’s the best decision for her family and that it’s safe.

“The decisions that we are making affect me and many of us personally as well, so we take them very seriously,” Piercey said. “I wouldn’t make decisions for others’ children that I wouldn’t be comfortable for my own.”

The commissioner said the department reached that decision because the risks of not going back to school are higher for many kids.

But what happens to teachers, who might not have a choice of staying at home and might get infected?

Piercey acknowledged that, generally speaking, death is a possibility.

“I can’t necessarily acknowledge that the school is a higher risk setting than any other setting, but it is a risk of death with COVID-19,” Piercey said.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.
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