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Less than a month into the semester, Tennessee receives 71 requests from schools to go virtual

Metro Public Health Dept./ via Facebook

A growing number of Tennessee schools are again experiencing low attendance, staffing shortages and closures due to COVID-19.

More than 30 school districts shut down for at least one day last week. Weeks into the new semester, school districts in DavidsonWilliamson and Wilson counties saw a record number of students testing positive for the virus so far this school year. 

Since the summer, state leaders have been firm about keeping as many children in class as possible. They barred school districts from offering a virtual learning option unless it was temporarily granted by the state education department. 

Only individual schools and classrooms can apply for the waiver, making it difficult for entire districts to receive the state’s approval to shift online.

So far this month, the state education department has already received 71 waiver requests and all but one were approved as of Friday afternoon.

Four small districts were able to shift entirely online because each of their schools were individually granted permission by the state. That includes schools in Lincoln, McMinn, Carroll and Maury counties. State education officials say the waiver policy has no cap on how many schools within a district can apply.

Meanwhile, most districts have had to take matters into their own hands and close down without a waiver. Instead, school systems are dipping into their stockpile days, which are most commonly used to shutter schools during bad weather, in response to COVID-related staff shortages. Districts that use all their stockpile days may have to extend the school year. 

So far, Cheatham County Schools, which closed last Thursday and Friday due to a staffing crunch, has six stockpile days left. Wilson County schools has three. And Clarksville Montgomery County Schools has only two days left because of weather-related challenges.

“We’re not going to put anyone in danger when inclement weather develops, and we’ll do what we need to do if a school just cannot be staffed safely and effectively,” says Bart Barker, a spokesperson for Wilson County Schools. “How it shakes out at the end of the semester? Not sure at this point, but we will continue to communicate with the state on our desired needs regardless of what our stockpile say situation is. Other districts are the same as us in that situation.”

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