NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — As we near the start of the school year, Tennessee's top education and health officials say that kids returning to the classroom in the fall is a priority, but that the statewide framework is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
"Over the past two months, we've put out a suite of resources focusing on local control, and also a significant amount of state guidance as our districts are navigating their individual needs and experiences," Tennessee Education Commissioner Dr. Penny Schwinn said during a press conference Wednesday in Nashville.
Dr. Schwinn and Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey both spoke in Washington D.C. on Tuesday during a roundtable on education. President Trump has been pushing in recent days for schools to reopen this fall and for students to attend in person. This week, Florida mandated K-12 schools do just that.
But while students returning to the classroom in Tennessee is a priority, remote or hybrid options are also being discussed where needed. Dr. Schwinn says tools for all these learning models have been made available to schools.
"First and foremost, the priority of the department will continue to be making sure that our students and staff are safe and that all of our students get access to a high-quality education," Dr. Schwinn said.
One of those tools being developed is an online tool that can provide up to a year of remote instruction in videos the can be viewed online or downloaded to individual devices.
Recently, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced $50 million in technology grants across the state. Dr. Schwinn says this would cover the costs for computers for 1/3 of all 3rd through 12th grade students in the state.
She added that any district that does use remote learning must have a plan in place.
While hybrid and remote options are available to schools, both Dr. Schwinn and Dr. Pearcey spoke on wanting kids to return to the classroom, where it's safe to do so.
Dr. Piercey referenced the recent recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which says that all policy considerations should start with the goal of kids being back in the classroom. She says that kids by and large don't need hospitalization from COVID-19, and pediatric deaths from the virus are rare.
But many kids who do contract COVID-19 are asymptomatic and can spread the virus to others without knowing, Dr. Piercey added.
In all, Dr. Piercey said that there are no absolute rules that will work for all districts, but that schools needed to be flexible and transparent.
Wilson County announced they will provide in-person instruction for students this year, but also a remote option to all students. Metro Nashville Schools are set to announce their plan Thursday at 1 p.m. You can watch that press conference on NewsChannel5.com