Multiple Scenarios Under Consideration as Teams Plan for Reopening County Schools


Teams began meeting to discuss how to open schools as safely as possible in August. School administrators are part of the Operations Team addressing implications of safety precautions on facilities and schedules. In this photo (L to R) are Melanie Needham of Dresden Elementary, Jeff Cupples of Greenfield School, School Board Chair Steve Vantrease, David Lewellen of Dresden Middle, School Board Member Josh Moore, and Terri Stephenson and Jeff Kelley of the district staff. Photo courtesy Weakley County Schools

Courtesy Karen Campbell, Weakley County Schools Communications Director

WEAKLEY COUNTY (June 19) — Health and safety continue to drive the planning for reopening Weakley County Schools. Seven teams with representatives from district personnel, school administrators, teachers, parents, community and business leaders and students will spend the summer considering various scenarios and determining appropriate responses.

With six weeks to students’ arrival on August 3, Weakley County Schools Director Randy Frazier instructed district staff to move from the research they had been conducting to recruiting teams for Nutrition, Transportation, Health and Safety, Communications, Continuous Learning, Operations and Special Populations.

Each team will draw on members’ expertise and diverse perspectives to map what learning will look like inside and outside the school facilities as the country continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The task before us is certainly complex,” noted Frazier. “We have spent the last several weeks researching our options while the number of our cases seemed to be stalled. Then the week we begin to form the teams to put that research into planning, we see a surge in the area. That’s a great example of how we will have to plan and also plan to be flexible in the days ahead.”

Research, thus far, has included studying health guidelines from national and local sources, surveying students on internet access, and investigating options ranging from everyone returning to buildings to staggering the days students will be on-site to distance learning.

“With each new piece of information, we have found more things we need to investigate,” Frazier explained. “For example, when our phone survey revealed at least a quarter of our students have no to low access to the internet, we began exploring how to purchase devices and load them with lessons in case we had to depend on distance learning.”

The current guidance from the state suggests planning based on the level of positive cases in the area. The levels are described as follows:

Level 1: Virus spread is high and school readiness is low. Schools will be closed, and all learning will occur via distance learning.

Level 2: Virus spread is minimal to moderate and school readiness is moderate. Schools will be open, but students will attend in person on alternating days to utilize social distancing. Distance learning will occur on the days not in the building.

Level 3: Virus spread is low and school readiness is moderate. Schools will be open but will implement preventative practices. Families that do not feel comfortable attending may attend via distance learning.

Level 4: Virus spread is low and school readiness is high. Schools will be open but will implement preventative practices.

An online survey of the county to determine how many families anticipate that they will return to schools in August has thus far netted more than 2,000 responses. Less than 40 have said they will not attend, but many of those indicated the reason was a move rather than any COVID-related rationale.

“We have received many questions regarding masks,” noted Frazier. “We realize that wearing masks is often uncomfortable and, in some cases, could prohibit effective learning. For that reason, we are looking closely at those times when masks will be critical like when a child becomes sick during the day and when we can adhere to social distancing without the use of a mask.”

He pointed to one option that keeps children in a “class bubble” with no interaction with other classes at meals or on the playground. In such a situation, masks might not be required.

Frazier underscored that other actions were not optional. He listed frequent hand washing, the use of disinfectant foams/gels, wiping down surfaces, and temperature checks as examples. Any child with a fever would absolutely need to stay home, he underscored.

Teams will be walking through typical days and identifying issues that might arise and then working on protocols to address those issues. Plans are to report each week to the general public through the county website and email when necessary.