Williamson superintendent tests positive for COVID-19 as board debates reopening schools – Tennessean
After Williamson County Schools Superintendent Jason Golden revealed that he was in quarantine via Zoom, school board members passionately aired their concerns and opinions about reopening schools at a work session on Thursday.
According to WCS Communications Director Carol Birdsong, Golden quarantined due to a family member who tested positive for COVID-19.
On Friday, the district confirmed that Golden had tested positive for COVID-19.
“He will continue to work remotely the next few days while following health department protocols,” the district said through social media. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 14 days of quarantine.
Seemingly upbeat, Golden also announced at the work session Thursday that he will make a determination by Friday evening whether students in grades 3-12 will return to school campuses on Aug. 24.
Students in grades 3-12 are participating in remote learning for the first two weeks of school, while Pre-K-2 grades returned to campuses last Friday, under the district’s hybrid reopening plan. The district will use the county’s coronavirus spread metric and the guidance of medical professionals to help determine remote or on-campus school.
“If there is any way possible, we need to go back to school,” Dan Cash, 2nd district board member, said.
Cash made a passionate plea for parents’ struggles — expressed through “hundreds and hundreds” of emails to the board — to be heard and validated.
“When I read these emails, I don’t see complaints,” Cash said. “These people are reaching out from their hearts. These are real concerns.”
Cash said some parents and students are reaching their limits with remote learning.
“We are maxed out,” he said. “The stress level is high. These students are worried. These little guys are trying to do something on the computer, and they don’t do it right, and end up asking ‘is something wrong with me?’ How much can they take?”
Board member Candy Emerson, 8th District, joined Cash in advocating for parents and students, who are experiencing the “stress” of remote learning, wearing masks, riding the bus, being separated from peers and working full time while facilitating remote learning.
“We are missing the boat. We need to take it seriously and do something about it,” Emerson said.
However, school board member Eric Welch said the school district must rely on science in its reopening plans.
“We all want kids back in classroom, but we have to do it in a way that’s safe and sustainable,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we are not listening or not compassionate (if we don’t do what parents want).”
Many parents are demanding that children return to school, while others say they are not yet comfortable.
Parent group Back-to-School Williamson County, with over 4,000 members on Facebook, has strongly advocated for children’s return to school. Holding signs, almost 100 parents rallied for on-campus school on the lawn of the Williamson County Administrative Complex last week.
The group’s founder and spokesperson, Mary Kate Brown, said that parents agree with health professionals and state leaders, who advocate for schools to reopen.
“If the state health commissioner Lisa Piercy is comfortable with sending her kids to school, if the CDC recommends sending kids back to school and if the governor is advocating for children to return to school, why can’t we,” Brown said recently.
The Facebook group Recall Williamson, formed in June, threatened to pursue legal action to remove school board members, who voted in favor of face mask mandates for children.
‘We are a divided community on this issue,” Nancy Garrett, 12th District, said. “That’s a challenging time to lead. This is a challenging time for us.”
However, she said she believes in the district’s plan.
“I don’t think everything is a bed of roses, but I haven’t heard this isn’t working, and I haven’t heard this is something that can’t be overcome,” Garrett said.
School board member Jay Galbreath, 6th District, also called the state’s coronavirus data collection “flawed.”
Tennessee Department of Health defines “recovered” as people, “who are at least 21 days beyond the first test confirming their illness.” However, the CDC recommends isolation for 10 days in addition to the clearing of symptoms and a normal temperature.
Galbreath suggested that the number of active cases in the state and county might be less than what is being reported by the state, and thus a lower rate of spread.
Golden admitted on the first day of school that the district couldn’t meet all social distancing standards.
“We can’t do it. We can’t social distance in classrooms and on buses,” Golden said, adding that they would when it’s feasible.
Currently, classrooms in grades K-2 are divided between two rooms monitored by the classroom teacher and a teacher’s assistant to meet social distancing guidelines.
“It’s really about substance over form … and how we can serve students on campus,” Golden said.
He emphasized that everyone wants to see kids in school. During the meeting, Golden also cited staffing as his major concern, including a lack of teacher assistants, technology staff and substitutes.
“I think every one of you have said some valuable things. This is hard. This is a pandemic. But for us to get through this we have to work together,” he said.
“I see brighter days ahead.”
Kerri Bartlett covers issues affecting children, families, education and government in Williamson County. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, 615-308-8324 or @keb1414 on Twitter.
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