Just two weeks after the first school districts in Tennessee reopened to students amid the coronavirus pandemic, some are already closing their doors.
Nearly 50 school districts have started the school year as of Wednesday — the majority of them in-person — and at least 14 confirmed COVID-19 cases connected to schools have already been reported.
Two school districts, Coffee County Schools and Blount County Schools, have already closed schools or altered their schedules as a result of exposures to the virus.
Coronavirus exposure in schools
Coffee County Schools
Coffee County Schools announced Wednesday that two schools, Coffee County Middle and North Coffee, will be closed for the rest of the week due to “an abundance of caution over COVID-19,” according to a post on the district’s Facebook page.
The district had already announced its first confirmed COVID-19 case even before schools reopened on Monday. On July 31, Coffee County Schools announced that an employee had tested positive after they began working and preparing for the school year.
Blount County Schools
Blount County Schools, which reopened July 29, announced Tuesday that the district would switch to a staggered schedule starting Friday for the next two weeks.
Just days after the district reopened, an individual at Carpenters Elementary School tested positive for the virus, according to an email from the school’s principal obtained by the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Maryville City Schools
Maryville City Schools, a district also within Blount County, has reported two confirmed cases as of Tuesday. A student tested positive at Coulter Grove Intermediate School and a staff member tested positive at John Sevier Elementary School, prompting a class of 16 students to be sent home to be quarantined for the next two weeks.
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Oak Ridge Schools
On July 28, Oak Ridge Schools announced that a staff member at Jefferson Middle School tested positive for COVID-19. The district began welcoming students back to school the next day as originally planned. Within a week, the district also announced a staff member at Oak Ridge High had also tested positive for the virus.
Alcoa City Schools
Alcoa City Schools has reported at least five confirmed COVID-19 cases since the district reopened on July 22 — the earliest district in the state to do so.
On July 24, the district announced an individual had tested positive at Alcoa Middle School and just days later the district announced three confirmed cases at Alcoa High School and one at Alcoa Elementary School.
Confirmed cases prior to re-opening
The state’s two largest school districts, Metro Nashville Public Schools and Shelby County Schools, are both starting the school year virtually, but both districts have reported confirmed cases among staff members who attended in-person training.
Metro Nashville Public Schools announced on July 29 that two employees tested positive after attending a pre-planning session at Smith Springs Elementary School, according to Metro Schools spokesperson Sean Braisted. Eighteen other staff members who also attended the training session were advised to quarantine for two weeks.
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A teacher at a Memphis charter school also reported testing positive two days after attending a mandatory in-person training at Promise Academy, according to Chalkbeat Tennessee.
About 80% of Shelby County students will start the year online, but some suburban schools, charter schools and state-run schools plan to have a mix of online and in-person instruction, Chalkbeat reports.
Tracking cases in schools
Gov. Bill Lee said Tuesday that his administration is in the process of creating a plan that would allow schools to share information about the number of COVID-19 cases in their facilities.
The governor’s comments come just days after officials with the state Department of Health and the Department of Education said the agencies would not ask for and collect data on the number of cases and deaths at each school.
When Lee announced guidance for school reopenings last week, state Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said Tennessee had no plans to provide the public with such data.
But the governor has since reversed course.
“We’re developing a plan for reporting cases in schools,” Lee said Tuesday. “I believe that we have to protect privacy but we also have to be transparent.”
Reporters Joel Ebert and Isabel Lohman contributed to this story.
Meghan Mangrum covers education in Nashville for the USA TODAY NETWORK — Tennessee. Contact her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.