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July 28, 2020

Commissioner Schwinn:

... those critical decisions. If a positive case is noted in the school, we know that we want to make sure that we take the necessary precautions, but that we also have a very clear protocol outline so that families understand how those decisions will be made and what that means in terms of their child's classroom, their child's school, and their community. So you will also see a district action team protocol which will help districts to move through those critical decisions when and if a positive case is noted at the school.

Commissioner Schwinn:

We're doing a lot of work on instruction. I'm excited to be able to highlight next week some of that work as it relates to academics because we know the two things that we are focusing on are health and safety as well as academics. But given that we are critically, critically focused on health for this week, I want to end just by saying that we've got almost a million students in this state. We have tens of thousands of school site staff who are there every single day specifically for their children. This is a very, very big challenge that we face as a state and as a country, and we have to keep those folks who are in our school communities near to our hearts as we make these decisions.

Commissioner Schwinn:

As I've mentioned before, I've got three kids, got two who are going to be in our public schools this year. And so when we're thinking about how we're making these decisions and the critical importance of that, please know that as a department, as a state, and I know in our school communities, we are thinking about all of our children as our own, and our most important task is to make sure that they are safe when they go to school, that they have a quality education when they are there, and they come home to us that much stronger and that much better.

Commissioner Schwinn:

I want to thank the superintendents across the state, our teachers, our families, and our school communities who have been working incredibly hard all summer to ensure that we open schools as strongly as possible. We will do this together. Tennessee continues to lead in this space and I'm very grateful for the ongoing support, so thank you very much, Governor. Yes, sir.

Governor Bill Lee:

Thank you, Commissioner. A lot of information. Very important time in our state's history. Very important that we rise to the challenge to serve the kids of Tennessee who are also in crisis, along with the rest of our population. I'm deeply grateful for the work that Commissioner Schwinn has put in. But again, I want to reiterate how grateful we are to the partnership that we've had with districts. We have had regular communication multiple times a week for months on end to prepare for these days, so we're especially thankful for the work of the districts who have developed plans and are ready to reopen their schools. We're thankful to the teachers who have given invaluable input and we're thankful to the parents who have given us feedback on how it is, what they want, what the choices they want for their children. I do think that we can lead in a way that will serve our kids well in these unprecedented times, and we are encouraged about where we are today and a process of getting our schools back open and getting our kids back in the classroom.

Governor Bill Lee:

We'll be happy to take questions, Dr. Pearcey, Commissioner Schwinn, and others on our team if those arise for them, but I'd be happy to take your questions.

John:

Hey, Governor. This is probably a question for Commissioner Schwinn. The Alcoa Middle School situation. I just wanted to get an update on that. Have any additional people tested positive there? What has the response been and was that a student or an employee of some sort? And then a second question. How many schools have indicated to the state that they anticipate opening in person on time, how many indicate that they're going to be delayed or virtual for some time, and how many are still up in the air?

Commissioner Schwinn:

Sure. Two great questions. Alcoa City did have a positive case within the first couple of days of opening. That does let us know we got some great partnership with the Tennessee Department of Health that that would have happened outside of the school community just by nature of how that worked. The school and I would say the superintendent worked through their protocol exactly as outlined, so they made sure to notify folks that happened within hours, they made sure to take the necessary steps to keep people safe. And so again, I think as we're having these conversations, a reasonable expectation is there will be positive cases in schools. That is something that is going to happen. What is important is that we have all of the safety and health protocols in place to ensure that folks have the resources they need and to make sure that we are going through the appropriate protocols. Alcoa City did do that.

Commissioner Schwinn:

And then I think to your second question, which was?

John:

How many schools have indicated they're going to open in person on time versus virtual versus ones that are still making decisions?

Commissioner Schwinn:

Sure. As of right now, and we're currently reviewing what we call continuous learning plans, those are plans that all of our districts are required to submit as well as our public charter schools that talk about what learning looks like in a remote environment to still count towards instructional days, as of today, 145 of 147 districts have plans to open in person for this year. Now, a number of our districts have delayed for one or two weeks, and for the most part, those districts have said that they wanted a little bit more time to ensure that they've gone through all of the plans to make sure that they have the resources necessary, the training and professional development supports necessary, et cetera. We're going to have a dashboard that will be publicly posted on the Department of Education's website and that will give you real time information on the status of every district so you know who is open remotely and who is open in person. But as of right now, it's 145 out of 147.

John:

Do you know how many are delayed at the outset?

Commissioner Schwinn:

I don't have the exact number on me, but at this point we know that it's approximately a dozen school districts in the state.

John:

Was there an additional COVID case out of Alcoa or is it just the one in person at this point?

Commissioner Schwinn:

The information that I have right now is around the one case where that person would have had a positive case coming into the school year.

John:

Thanks.

Commissioner Schwinn:

Yes, sir.

 

Governor Bill Lee:

You might as well state [inaudible].

Speaker 4:

Thank you, Governor, and thank you, Commissioners for talking with us today. I have a few questions. The first one is about teachers. You've talked about how you want to give parents the option of whether they're going to send their kids to in-person instruction or if they will have remote learning. What about teachers? I asked you these, I believe last week. What are the options for teachers who are afraid for their health? Is there a possibility that they can stay home and still have a job?

 

Governor Bill Lee:

We have made the effort, the greatest focus that we've had with our teachers is to provide them everything that they need to be safe to go back. Penny has referenced the PPE and the kits and the guidelines for safety within their classrooms. Our expectation is that those teachers will return to work under those safety guidelines. For teachers who have exposure and/or have to find themselves quarantined, there's federal guidelines around that pay for those teachers in that situation. But our expectation, our anticipation is that our teachers are for the most part going to come back to work.

Speaker 4:

Commissioner Schwinn talked about how the expectation is that there are going to be positive cases in the schools because of how this virus is spreading, so it sounds like you cannot ensure that safety of teachers, though. Can you?

 

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, we can provide safety equipment for teachers to do everything we can to make certain that they're in a safe environment. Can we guarantee that a teacher may not test positive? We can't guarantee that. We also don't know where cases come from specifically. That's difficult to track, but we're doing everything we can to create a safe environment, and our expectation is that those teachers will be returning.

Speaker 4:

Thank you. I have one last question about contact sports. We're seeing that professional contact sports are struggling to go back because of the COVID cases. What do you see different here in terms of schools? I mean, do you foresee some of these schools-

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, I think again, we'll see what happens when. As I said, our expectation is that if the guidelines about TSSAA are followed, then we'll be able to move forward with those contact sports. But we also know that reasonable, practical approaches have to be made considering COVID-19 in order to be able to finish the season. So we will see how that develops, but our anticipation is that we can move through that safely.

Speaker 5:

Governor, earlier today, there was a Nashville physician who was basically urging you to move to do the statewide mask mandate and stuff, and he was pointing to your campaign and [inaudible 00:09:23]. He considers himself a Christian and he was saying that basically he thinks you should be doing the walk and making these tough decisions from a religious perspective, as a man of faith. How do you respond to that?

Governor Bill Lee:

I think what we're doing is making the decisions that we believe are going to be most effective in mitigating the spread of COVID, and that is a strategy of messaging around wearing masks, a strategy of implementing local leaders who have the trust of their local citizens, and as you heard Dr. Birx yesterday, support that effort and that approach. My belief is that wearing a mask is a safe way to keep our economy open, to keep our schools open, and the best way to implement that in a sustainable way is to use the targeted approach that we're having. So that's my belief and that's my approach and that's our effort, and we see it working.

Speaker 5:

Thanks.

Alex:

Hi, Governor.

Governor Bill Lee:

Alex.

Alex:

One of the things you said earlier was you "are putting this in place with a real hope that it doesn't leave any students to fend for themselves," I think was your quote. In Nashville and Memphis, there's perhaps the widest swath of students that are very well off and ones that really struggle because of their home environment. Would you recommend to those two school districts that are doing mainly virtual learning to open up targeted, maybe it's mental health services, maybe it's learning just for disabilities? And I ask you this because I see on here that there's an encouragement to keep students and staff together in a group and make that be their group sort of as much as you can. And so I'm wondering if you could target that to things, even if students aren't in the classroom, from 8-3, say?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, I'll let Commissioner Schwinn talk about our interaction with those districts, but I'll reiterate this. While districts are given the responsibility to make decisions about their own district, our belief along with a national belief is that in-person learning is best for students, including in Davidson and Shelby County. We're hopeful that those will move toward in-person learning when they believe that it's appropriate to do so. We think it's best for kids. We do believe that many of the most vulnerable kids are in those districts and they're at the highest risk being out of the classroom, so our hope is that we can work with those districts to get them to implement in-person learning.

Alex:

Commissioner Schwinn, if I might follow up on the cohorting students and staff into small groups that remained together over time, how would you envision that looking? Do you have an example that you could give of that?

Commissioner Schwinn:

I think there are a number of examples and in terms of how different districts and schools are thinking about cohorting. The Department's put out some pretty significant guidance related to all of the various options of what that could look like. So an example might be, let's say, an elementary school, you could have a group of students who naturally stay together and you make sure that you have the one teacher who's with that consistent group of students.

Commissioner Schwinn:

It gets more complicated, of course, in middle and high school where oftentimes children are moving in between classes. And so one of the things we actually heard from one of our Teachers of the Year who said, here's what we're doing. We're going to keep students together in one classroom and then we'll actually have certain teachers who move in between classrooms, allowing them to sanitize their equipment as they are moving. And she suggested that as something that's happening at her school, that she helped to co-create with her school leadership.

Commissioner Schwinn:

And so I think that's a good example of if you want to make sure all children continue to have art, you can have that art teacher who is moving classroom to classroom disinfecting and making sure the students stay together. You can have that for a lot of different scenarios, and we actually see a number of middle and high schools who are moving into that model where the teachers rotate, but the kids stay together.

Speaker 7:

Governor, the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics have both said that the number one condition that states should look at when opening schools is whether or not COVID-19 is under control in the state. It's not in Tennessee. How do you explain the decision to continue to open schools based on the current climate in the state?

Governor Bill Lee:

I think the decisions to reopen schools are based on the health and safety of children. I think we've outlined the risks associated with children not being in school. We've outlined all of the dangerous and all of the negative impacts that that has on kids. And so we weigh our approach to mitigating the spread of COVID-19, which we are aggressively pursuing on a daily basis with the need to safely put kids back in the classroom. This decision around in-person learning is based on what's best for kids, and that's how we've made the determination to move forward.

Speaker 7:

Okay. The CDC has also said that they believe that if there is a child or a teacher who is infected in a classroom-

Governor Bill Lee:

Could you speak up?

Speaker 7:

If there's a child or teacher who's infected in the classroom, that the whole classroom should be tested. Why not take that advice in your plan rather than potentially asking a child whether or not they've been within six feet of someone who has it for 10 minutes?

Governor Bill Lee:

One of the challenges that we face right now in the state is, and in the nation, frankly, is testing turnaround time and the, speed with which we can get results back from testing. That weighs into that decision, and we will be looking at, and we talked actually with Dr. Birx yesterday about testing strategies moving forward, but we think that the clear protocols that we've put in place that will be pushed out to those districts are going to allow for the appropriate steps to take whenever there is a case in a school to make sure that those kids are safe.

Alex:

Do you think those children would be able to make those determinations, though, whether or not they're ... I mean, a six-year-old?

Governor Bill Lee:

Well, I think this is going to be very hard-