Tennessee will start reporting COVID-19 cases by school starting Tuesday

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Beginning Tuesday, Tennesseans will be able to see COVID-19 data by school on a dashboard put together by the state Department of Education.

But there are caveats: it will be updated weekly, the state will not report specific case numbers for schools with fewer than 50 students enrolled and it will not report the specific number of cases if the active case count is less than five.

Districts will provide the information to the state, and the dashboard will include classroom or school closures and whether students in each district are learning in-person, remotely or in a hybrid model.

At least three Knox County Schools have fewer than 50 people enrolled, according to numbers provided by the district July 27. Those schools are Richard Yoakley School, Fort Sanders Educational Development Center and Ridgedale Alternative School. 

Knox County Schools has its own dashboard right now that lists the number of active cases, number of recovered cases and the number of those isolated or quarantined.

It also includes district metrics for student attendance, teacher and school staff attendance, bus service interruption, cafeteria staff attendance, custodial staff attendance and the availability of substitute teachers. Those categories are color-coded green, yellow or red to indicate how well the district is doing in each.

On Wednesday, the district announced it was making public how the color-coding is determined.

The dashboard doesn’t provide individual school data, but the state’s announcement could change that.

The state had gone back and forward on whether to share school-level data. On Aug. 18, Gov. Bill Lee said he wanted to provide transparency without violating FERPA and HIPAA, the federal privacy acts that apply to student educational and health records, respectively.

Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, said these two laws protect individuals’ privacy but the public has the right to know what’s broadly happening in schools.

She said she thinks districts are worried if they release school data, people will use it to play detective and identify infected people. 

“It all comes down to, ‘Are we somehow identifying that Joe Smith in third grade has COVID-19?,” Fisher explained.

But privacy concerns are also dueling with the public’s right to know, Fisher said.

“That has to be weighed with the need for the public to know what’s happening in the schools. People don’t want to make decisions about their kids in the dark.”

Still, Fisher said parents should know what’s happening at the school and maybe even down to the classroom level. Knox County principals have sent emails to school parents and staff when there is a confirmed COVID-19 case at a school, but the emails do not provide the number of cases. 

More about COVID-19 in schools

You can find which schools in Knox County have announced a COVID-19 case using our statewide COVID-19 database.

You can find Knox County Schools’ district-wide COVID-19 data on its website.

You can find the total number of cases among school-aged children in Knox County and how many of them have occurred in the last 14 days at the state department of health’s website. 

Share information with Knox News

Knox News is committed to tracking Knox County schools that have COVID-19 cases. Because the district’s reopening plan allows for individual school closures, we think it’s important to track school information. We also want to help tamp down rumors or inaccurate information.

We need the help of parents, students and teachers to make that happen. We’re seeking ears on the ground at every KCS school. 

How can you help? If you receive an email about a positive COVID-19 case at your school, please forward the information to Isabel.Lohman@knoxnews.com or you can send us a tip on our online form. Please include a screenshot of the school email that includes the date sent if you have it.

And if you want to be part of the ongoing effort to track COVID-19 in our schools, please fill out this form so we can stay in touch. We will not share your identity or personal information.

Meghan Mangrum of The Tennessean contributed to this report.

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