When Nashville students return to class on Monday, they won’t be returning to school buildings. Instead, all Metro Nashville Public School students will be back at home, learning virtually through the end of the semester.
The district decided to keep elementary schools closed after the Thanksgiving holiday last week, citing the surge in COVID-19 cases in the community and staffing challenges.
Here’s what you need to know about Metro Schools’ return to virtual learning.
All students are learning remotely
Metro Schools students in grades pre-K through 2 were given the option to return in-person on Oct. 13, with students in grades 3-4 following later that month. Students with exceptional needs, especially those who attend special day centers, also returned in-person this fall, but middle and high school students were never given the opportunity.
Now, all students will be home through the end of the semester on Dec. 17. In a Nov. 23 email, Director Adrienne Battle attributed the decision to the increasing spread of the coronavirus across Nashville and school staffing challenges due to hundreds of teachers in quarantine each week.
There isn’t a set date for when schools will reopen
The second semester officially begins on Jan. 7. Under the district’s original phased-in timeline, high school students were set to return to campus on Jan. 7, but the timeline was paused on Oct. 23 when middle schools were halted from reopening after a recommendation from the school board.
In her latest email, Battle told families that “conditions in the city and in schools will inform the timeline for bringing students back to in-person learning, and schools may be required to remain closed or to close again based on the spread of COVID-19.”
Local public schools haven’t been proven to increase the spread of COVID-19
Though neither Metro Schools nor the Metro Public Health Department have linked COVID-19 outbreaks to schools, district officials haven’t dismissed the possibility of transmission within schools.
“Nearly all the cases have been contracted outside of the classroom or school, though we are seeing an indication of confirmed and potential transmission at several of our schools,” Battle said in a Nov. 16 email to families. “Even if classroom spread is limited or unlikely, the reality is that we need teachers to teach, and the numbers of isolations and quarantines are taking a toll on our ability to staff classrooms.”
Last week, the district reported 103 new cases in the past seven days among students and staff, and Nashville has seen an increase in infections among school-aged children in the past weeks.
Schools have faced significant staffing challenges
Though Metro Schools has only reported about 450 confirmed COVID-19 cases among students and staff since the district started reporting the data on Oct. 19, some Middle Tennessee districts have had to close schools because of staffing challenges.
Metro Schools has had more than 200 teachers or staff members in quarantine or self-isolation each week since the end of October, but only about one-third of the substitute pool has been actively signing up for open slots, spokesperson Sean Braisted previously told The Tennessean.
Before closing schools, the district needed about 280 substitutes a day, on average, but its vacancy fill rate — or how many substitute teachers it can find of those actually needed — has hovered between 50% to 62% this semester.
Child care is available
The need for child care, especially for the district’s youngest learners, is one of the greatest challenges facing families when schools are closed.
The district has been partnering with the YMCA to offer support services for children of essential workers and Metro Schools employees.
While schools are operating remotely, Metro Schools students ages 5 to 12 (and the children of Metro Schools employees) can enroll in free YMCA Emergency Childcare. Income verification is required.
The YMCA will offer supervision and virtual learning support at a number of locations from Nov. 30 to Dec. 30.
The locations include:
- Buena Vista Enhanced Option: 1531 Ninth Ave. N, Nashville, TN 37208
- Gra-Mar Middle School: 575 Joyce Lane, Nashville, TN 37216
- Glencliff Elementary: 120 Antioch Pike, Nashville, TN 37211
- Gower Elementary: 650 Old Hickory Blvd., Nashville, TN 37209
- Tusculum Elementary: 440 McMurray Drive, Nashville, TN 37211
- Andrew Jackson Elementary: 110 Shute Lane, Old Hickory, TN 37138
- Stanford Montessori: 2417 Maplecrest Drive, Nashville, TN 37214
- Carter-Lawrence Elementary: 1118 12th Ave. S, Nashville, TN 37203
For more information or to register, visit www.ymcafunco.org/essential-worker-fall-care.
Metro Schools is also offering virtual and in-person help centers
The district will continue to offer tech support at four outdoor virtual learning support centers for students.
The centers are open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday at the following locations:
- Glencliff High School, 160 Antioch Pike
- Maplewood High School, 410 Walton Lane
- Overton High School, 4820 Franklin Road
- Pearl-Cohn High School, 904 26th Ave. N.
Students and families can also call the MNPS Help Desk to speak to a tech support representative at 615-269-5956.
Meals will still be provided to remote students
Since September, Metro Schools has been offering no-cost breakfast and lunch to all children aged 18 and under, though students are still encouraged to fill out a free and reduced lunch application.
Meals are available for pick-up and have also been distributed via current bus routes.
Families can pick up grab-and-go meals from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on weekdays. Families can go to any school to pick up meals.
- High school times should be between 10 and 11 a.m.
- Elementary times should be between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
- Middle school times should be between 12:45 and 1:45 p.m.
The district will also distribute breakfasts and lunches via bus routes.
To find bus stop locations and delivery times, visit: www.mnps.org/playbook-meals.
Students are still using Florida Virtual School content
Whether virtual or in-person, Metro Schools teachers have been delivering curriculum from Florida Virtual School this semester. While learning remotely, most students access both live, or synchronous, instruction with their classmates and teachers via multiple online platforms including Schoology, Google Classroom and Microsoft Teams, as well as asynchronous, or independent work.
Schedules vary by grade level and school. Most elementary students meet with their live teacher daily, though some middle and high students follow a block schedule.
The Florida Virtual School curriculum has cost the district at least $5 million and was approved by the school board in July and again in October. The us
e of the curriculum has caused by controversy as the district waits for official approval of the curriculum for both virtual and in-person learning from the State Board of Education.
Families can still select in-person or virtual learning for spring
Metro schools families were already asked this fall to fill out a survey indicating their preference for in-person or virtual learning when schools do reopen.
Of the more than 40,000 students who responded to the survey in September, 54%, or 24,935 students, indicated they hoped to return in-person, and 46%, or 20,934 students, chose to continue with virtual learning.
During the week of Nov. 30 to Dec. 4, families have the option to change their preference for the upcoming semester.
Once the survey window closes on Dec. 4, all decisions for the remainder of the school year will be final, Battle told families in an email.
School leaders will need to develop schedules and align staff and students based on family preferences. Even if families indicate an in-person preference, schools might remain closed for all students depending on COVID-19 conditions in the community, district officials said.
Students who attend school in person will be required to wear masks, except when actively eating or drinking or socially distanced outdoors, unless they have a documented and approved medical accommodation. Students and teachers will also still be required to follow quarantine guidelines if they are exposed to COVID-19 or are exhibiting symptoms.
When schools do reopen, the district will likely follow a phase-in schedule that prioritizes exceptional education students and then elementary students, like the district did this fall.
Families can update their preferences online at www.mnps.org/decision-survey.
Metro Schools aren’t the only ones changing their schedules
Many surrounding districts extended their Thanksgiving breaks due to rises in COVID-19 cases among students and staff or thanks to their own staffing challenges, and are also rethinking their schedules.
Rutherford County Schools were closed the entire week and Wilson County Schools closed a day early on Nov. 20 because the district didn’t have enough teachers to staff classrooms. The Wilson County School Board will meet on Monday to re-evaluate grades K-5 remaining on a traditional schedule.
Williamson County Schools announced that middle and high school students will stay remote until at least Dec. 4, with elementary school students returning to campus with “cautious monitoring.”
The state’s largest school district, Shelby County Schools in Memphis, has remained virtual this school year and Hamilton County Schools in Chattanooga is reverting to a hybrid model due to increasing COVID-19 cases in southeast Tennessee.
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Meghan Mangrum covers education in Nashville for the USA TODAY NETWORK — Tennessee. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.