BY KAREN CAMPBELL
Weakley County Schools Communications Director
DRESDEN (November 16) – Unlike most districts in Northwest Tennessee, all Weakley County Schools have conducted in-person classes since reopening in August. Though the numbers of students and staff in isolation or quarantine due to COVID-19 have increased in the last few weeks, principals gathered in Dresden for their monthly meeting agreed that due to the protocols established, “Schools are the safest place our kids can be.” And Director Randy Frazier wants to keep it that way.
As Frazier met with principals and Central Office staff, he revealed findings recently distributed to superintendents statewide, stressed adhering to established Centers for Disease Control guidelines, and reviewed required actions for athletic programs.
Bethany Allen, Coordinated School Health, shared that while the numbers of those currently absent due to COVID-19 have reached a new peak, overall only three classrooms have been temporarily shut down and no schools have reached the mark of a critical lack of available personnel that would warrant a turn to virtual classrooms.
“What we are doing is working,” she said, reporting the latest update indicated 10 students and 11 staff were in isolation due to a positive test with 232 students and 20 staff in quarantine due to close contact. She noted that many of those in quarantine were due to return on Monday.
Using statistics released by the Tennessee Department of Health, Frazier pointed out that Tennessee is the second highest state in the nation for cases per 100,000 children. Nearing 2,700 per 100,000, Tennessee has more than double the overall national rate of 1,134.
From Vanderbilt University Medical Center, superintendents learned evidence has now emerged that individuals may be most infectious in the two days prior to symptoms.
Studies also underscore that transmitting the virus can be curbed if individuals use physical distancing and masks. The Vanderbilt study showed that Tennessee is among the states with the lowest use of masks, even while statistics reveal if 80-90 percent of the population wore masks, “we would eventually eliminate the disease.”
“Masks, hand hygiene, and social distancing are proven to be the best means available right now by which we fight this virus,” Frazier emphasized to the meeting participants.
Assistant Director Jeff Kelley requested all schools review the protocols established when schools opened and remind students and staff of the guidelines.
“We cannot become lax,” Frazier agreed.
He then moved to the topic of athletic programs. In a review of TSSAA guidelines, he reminded principals of the necessity of taking temperatures and asking screening questions regularly with team members, taking temperatures at game entrances, limiting seating capacity to one-fourth or one-third of available seating, fans wearing masks or remaining six-feet apart, and following distancing/masks guidelines on the benches and at the officials’ table.
“We are in a pandemic,” he stressed as he reiterated how not following the guidelines could result in an entire team in quarantine. “What I don’t want to have to do is stop basketball season again. If we do, it won’t be me who closes it down. The virus is going to dictate what happens.”
After discussion of TSSAA guidelines recommending more than six feet of distancing if shouting, such as cheers, were employed, the principals agreed to follow a guideline countywide that would add the wearing of masks by cheerleaders.
They also agreed to spread out the timing of county tournament play and to not participate in tournaments outside the district.
Frazier concluded his remarks, reinforcing the messaging shared in a letter to parents that went out with report cards last week.
“If our community would follow our school’s lead and practice the safety measures we are using inside the schools, we would be in a better position.”
He then added, “I like what the sign I saw in one of our gyms said – ‘Don’t be the reason our kids can’t play ball.’ That’s the kind of diligence we need academically as well to keep our students in the most effective learning environment we can offer.”