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School districts are asking Governor Bill Lee to allow schools to go virtual when necessary

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Posted at 6:07 PM, Aug 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-27 19:47:11-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn (WTVF) — School superintendents say in order to keep students learning and education going during the pandemic they need another option.

Some are asking the Governor to include schools in a state of emergency so districts can have remote learning options when students and staff are sick with COVID-19.

The rising number of positive COVID-19 cases with students and staff are being felt across Tennessee School Districts.

"I've been in this business for 28 years and I've never seen the stress level, the tension level of educators and administrators, nurses, bus drivers," said Jeff Luttrell, Wilson County Director of Schools.

Luttrell and the Wilson County School Board discussed new protocols last Tuesday. These include health screenings and social distancing on buses. The same is being felt in Williamson County Schools.

"As the thing gets worse again, as the virus gets worse, It's going to be more and more difficult for people to make these decisions."

Newschannel 5's political analyst Pat Nolan says districts have been using stockpile or weather days to close down individual schools because of a lack of staff and rising COVID-19 cases.

Now, districts are asking the Governor for help.

"I went back just last week and reached out to the Department of Education asking can I extend that virtual, and was denied," said Luttrell.

Superintendents are asking Governor Lee to grant them the authority to go to virtual learning days if necessary. In order to do so, Governor Lee will need to add school operations in the current state of emergency.

Even though Lee has said there is currently no plan to incorporate virtual learning, Commissioner Penny Schwinn says it may be up for consideration.

NewsChannel 5 obtained a letter Commissioner Schwinn sent to districts. In it, she says she will consider waivers that would allow classrooms or schools to temporarily participate in remote instruction. However, that waiver must be requested and districts must outline and document the impact of COVID on students and staff.

"I think they're just looking for some more guidance and right now, even though I think several systems are asking for it, including systems in strongly Republican counties. They're not getting much feedback," Nolan said.

Superintendent Jason Golden said at last night's board meeting, education commissioner Penny Swinn told superintendents they could go remote in response to a COVID-19 outbreak, as long as it isn't a district-wide shift to remote learning.

Golden says they haven't received any details on that in writing. Superintendents are hoping to hear something on the issue by early next week.