NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — While a lot of Nashville teachers have big concerns about returning to in-person learning, at least one of them -- access to COVID 19 testing -- won't be one of them.
Metro Nashville Public Schools plans to partner with Meharry Medical College to be aggressive when it comes to COVID-19 testing.
"Identify hot spots that might arise, make sure we keep it from spreading throughout the system so that we don’t have to do a shutdown," explained Patrick Johnson of Meharry Medical College during a news conference Monday.
Under the plan, students and teachers who need a test can request one. Sean Braisted, spokesperson for MNPS, tells NewsChannel 5,"We will be encouraging those students or staff who are symptomatic to stay home and not attend school in order to limit possible exposures. However, we anticipate testing to be available on an as-needed basis in addition to our broader testing program."
Both students and teachers can also opt-in for random, sample testing on a bi-weekly basis.
"It’ll be a sample size for each school. We’ve created a sample large enough to where you’ll kind of know what the trends are," explained Johnson.
The concept is, if they randomly sample willing teachers and students, they'll have a better idea if certain schools have big case clusters and can make decisions accordingly.
Braisted added they don't have an estimate on how many students or teachers they will be using for the sample tests, but will be reaching out to families and staff soon to start the opt-in process and determine the level of participation.
Through their partnership with Meharry, the medical school will provide PCR testing, staffing and support. BinaxNOW COVID Ag rapid tests are being allocated from the Tennessee Department of Health.
Funding for most of it will come through ESSER 2.0 grants in the stimulus package passed by Congress in December.
"Certainly the testing will help," said Amanda Kail, President of the Metro Nashville Education Association.
Kail says testing inside each school will help teachers actually access testing. "The hours that the testing centers were open were when they were teaching so that made it very difficult to go get tested unless they took time off," she told NewsChannel 5.
But Kail wishes the same amount of resources were being used for some of their other concerns about returning to in-person learning. "Number one, getting vaccinated but even more than that, being able to have social distancing in classrooms. Making sure they have adequate PPE," she said.
It's not from a lack of effort. Metro's Director of Schools Adrienne Battle made a plea directly to Governor Lee during her Monday news conference. "If the leadership in Tennessee is serious about keeping staff in classrooms, we need to make vaccinations a priority now," Battle said.
"If we could make sure those vaccines are available, I think you would see teachers much more willing to go into the classroom than they are right now," explained Kail.