The School Board Receives Its Report (Plus More)

The afternoon started off with Governor Lee holding a press conference discussing a wide range of topics, most of which were centered on opening schools in the fall. He’d instructed TSSAA (the sports arm of the public schools) to defer the announcement they’d planned regarding how they intended to proceed with sports.

After beginning the conference by saying that a task force will be convening to address the issue with the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust in the capital building. He defended its presence, but also acknowledged that the bust also hurts African-Americans. He noted it is controversial beyond his time in the confederacy. He suggested it should be in the Tennessee State Museum.

He pleaded with people of the state to wear masks, noting that he has given counties the authority to require it, however he stopped short of saying he would require it. He attributed the high number of cases announced earlier that day to the high testing of the day before. (Ed.: This cannot be accurate. Test results are not returned in one day.)

He introduced Commissioner Schwinn. They talked about what they’ve rolled out to schools in terms of supporting distance education. She said the governor had authorized $50 million for school use in technology to make distance learning possible if it is needed. She said many teachers have been involved via surveys and through ongoing support through UT. The effort is to support school systems with a process in place should distance education become necessary.

Dr. Piercy gave the health report. Noting her children are school age, she said child safety is critical to her. She noted that children do well with the virus, though they can pass the disease along. She said because of the mental health and educational loss, it is important that children be back in school.

Regarding the virus directly, she said test result lags are a problem, mostly because demand has spiked and has outpaced capacity. They are trying to build capacity. She repeated the need of citizens to wear masks. The focus from both her and the governor was to wear masks in order to keep the economy open. Oddly, no one wore masks at the press conference.

The main event for local citizens was the Board of Education meeting which, coincidentally followed the governor’s press conference.

Bob Thomas opened the meeting expressing appreciation to those who had completed surveys and participated in focus groups. He noted that next week he will present the re-opening plan.

Jerry Askew from the task force presented the findings. He noted that 77,000 surveys went out and 30,000 came back, with 82% completed by parents. The majority of students and parents wanted in-class instruction. Less than half of administrators wanted to do so. 30 – 40% wanted a hybrid. About 11% to 15% wanted online instruction only.

He noted their task was not to recommend, but simply to report the data and their thoughts. Their observations:

  • There is no substitute for in-person learning. Still, a priority must be given to student, teacher and staff safety. It will entail a balancing of risks and that there are no risk-free options.
  • There is no one-size-fits-all safety plan.
  • The lesson of the pandemic is that the virus is opportunistic. Risks to age groups differs. Physical risks to children are lower. There are psychological and educational risks to not being in school.
  • It is unlikely our youngest students can wear masks or keep social distancing for the entire day.
  • The task force hopes the school system will work hand-in-hand with Dr. Buchanan and others at the health department to develop an initial plan and contingency plans in order to guarantee continuous learning.
  • Issues of equity must be addressed. If online instruction is used, access to broadband service must be available for all students.
  • We must find a way to serve those students, and not shut down the entire system because we can’t help those students.
  • Parents with students of special needs are most anxious.
  • Teachers must be given the resources to do what they are asked, which includes being prepared to teach in class or online.
  • Protocols must be developed for infections or exposures of students or teachers.
  • There must be a plan to address instruction of students whose parents keep them at home and policies must be in place to accommodate them if they return at some point.
  • Transportation safety plans must be put into place.
  • Parents can’t return to work without a place for their children. This will require partners in child care and others.
  • While re-opening the economy can’t be the focus of the schools, the two are intertwined.
  • He ended with a plea for communicating constantly with teachers and families. Ambiguity is the biggest danger. “We fear this is happening already.”


  1. First, I’m glad that I’m not the one making these decisions, because there’s no correct answer. I volunteer with elementary students, and there’s no room for distancing and no way these children will wear masks the whole day. They move around the classroom from desk to table to computer to the rug on the floor. They love their families and will unknowingly take this virus back to grandma without knowing they did it. On the other hand, we the people have neglected to insist on broadband access for all, allowing businesses to cherry pick where they can make money. I moved to Knoxville from southern Monroe County, where broadband access is virtually unknown (even the rich cannot get satellite access to work in the Cherokee National Forest) and even cell service is very limited. Online learning won’t work where family is functionally illiterate. These are children who rely on the school system to feed them, for heaven’s sake. So what do we do there? To repeat: no good solution, no right answer.

    • All good points Sandy and as a teacher I thank you for realizing that these asymptomatic students would bring this virus to their parents/grandparents. Anyone who is immunocompromised is susceptible to the horrific effects of this virus. And a good portion of students are actually being cared for at home by their older grandparents so that is a huge issue. As for lunches, I am definitely hopeful that it would be taken care of like the end of the year and they will still be handed out at certain locations in town. Some cities even utilized their buses to take the food to the students who could not make it to those locations.

  2. D Johnson says

    Who is responsible for taking what is essentially a public health matter and reducing it to pure partisan politics?

    • Bob Fischer says

      D Johnson, The answer to your question is County Mayor Glenn Jacobs is generally acknowledged as the leader of the group insisting this is a partisan economic issue. Virtually all of our competent government officials are treating this as a public health issue. Until Mayor Jacobs throws the full weight of his office and changes the minds of those he’s convinced this is a hoax behind wearing masks and taking the pandemic seriously, we are going to see things continue to get worse for the foreseeable future.

  3. David Deibler says

    I get tested every 2 to 3 weeks at ORNL. We get our results back the next day. So, with other places taking 3 days for results, the average is closer 2 days overall.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      According to the Health Department yesterday, the turnaround time for them is 4 to 5 days. I have a friend who waited ten days just last week. I suspect ORNL has a relationship with a lab that gets their results faster. Return times, particularly for negative results are growing, as mentioned in the Governor’s press conference, yesterday.

    • I was tested on June 29 at my doctor’s office and it took 7 days to get my result.

    • 82% of parents and students completed the survey — it included students?? What is a “majority” —51% and that includes 12 year old respondents? 99% that were all parents? This needs much better analysis than “a majority” of parents and students.
      Results are too non specific, makes me suspect spin for what is a political foregone conclusion-kids are going back to school and there won’t be money for safeguards. It’s going to be a disaster.

    • Why is ORNL testing? Is it because of security concerns? I haven’t heard of employers doing testing. Thanks.

  4. Ken Sparks says

    Thanks for this detailed report for those who were not able to attend. It’s a real dilemma when most kids & parents want to return to class but most administrators want to continue online instruction this Fall. Motives for each may vary but it seems to me we should default to the safe side (online) since the adult teachers and administrators are the more likely affected by a virus unknowingly carried by a student. The $50 million approved for school technology in rural areas would help support online learning and it’s overdue in remote areas of TN.

  5. Carolyn L Snyder says

    I agree that many children need the structure of on site education, and many parents are not fortunate enough to have childcare so they can work, without the built in childcare of a conventional classroom. Add to that the free breakfasts and lunches that many families depend on to help feed their children. I also readily agree that most children would be far more negatively impacted by the isolation of being trapped at home than from actually catching the virus themselves. However, all that being said, if my child contracts the virus from another child at school it could mean life/death for me personally, and devastation for my family. She would likely recover, I would not. When weighing out the options, it is important to look further than the children and general (healthy) population. Those of us who arent as healthy, teachers and support staff, bus drivers, and the grandparents and extended families of the students need to be a consideration as well.

  6. It’s odd that they claim children are less at risk when we do not have the data to draw that conclusion. Children have been out of school since the beginning of the pandemic and have not been going out into public nearly as much as adults. I rarely see children at stores when I go grocery shopping. To say the risk is reduced among children seems like a rush. I’m sure we’re going to see quite a few families facing tragedy thanks to this rushed view and the reopening of schools with minimal safeguards in place.

    • Frank, I was with you until your last sentence.

      You aptly criticize the “rushed” conclusion of lower risks to children due to lack of data, but you then offer your own counter-conclusion (“I’m sure we’re going to see quite a few families facing tragedy…”) without any supporting data of your own. If the data is insufficient to draw one conclusion, then it’s also insufficient to draw the opposite conclusion.

      • Wrong. We have data that says when a bunch of humans are in close quarters, they will transmit the virus. Just today we saw that a summer camp in Missouri was the site of an outbreak of 80+ kids and staff. That was outdoors. Now we want to put them in a classroom of 20 to 30 kids for 7 hours? We have data that supports the assertion that close-quarters gatherings are an undue risk. It makes no sense to assume children will be immune to a novel disease.

  7. Has there been any discussion about the adults that are supposed to provide instruction and care for these students? The school system often has to shut down for a week or two weeks at a time as it is for regular flu season. Substitute teachers do not get health insurance, so I doubt there will be many eager to jump in if there are vacancies.

  8. What bothers me about the survey, is that the question about returning to school was stated as IF the case numbers were declining and health officials determined it was safe. I don’t think that’s our current situation. If the question had asked how people felt about returning to school during a major spike in cases, the answers might have been different.

  9. Why do you need a taskforce to determine whether a statue representing one of the most racist humans to ever live should be removed? This man was the first grand wizard of the KKK and was responsible for the slaughter of over 300 Black Union soldiers at Fort Pillow… who had surrendered! Seems like a no-brainer and definitely not one that people should be getting together to discuss at length like it’s some major policy change. What a waste of limited resources especially in light of our current predicament and current events. Shameful is all i can say. SHAMEFUL!

    And speaking of shameful, how are you gonna expect people to wear masks if you don’t wear one yourself? Have these people ever heard of the concept of modeling behavior? Is there not ONE pyschologist the state can call on to help them figure this out?! Guess those resources are tied up with the taskforce evaluating whether a founder of the Klan’s statue should remain prominently displayed in our state’s capital!

    And no wonder our education system lags so far behind most of the rest of the country. We have the least intelligent leadership anyone could shake a stick at. The governor making the ridiculous claim that we had so many positive cases because we tested so much the day before? This is the dunce making life and death decisions for the citizens of the great state of Tennessee?!

    And lastly, are we surprised so many parents want their kids back in classrooms this fall? Many of them have to be losing their ever loving minds trying to keep their kids from losing theirs. The fact of the matter is though that there’s NO WAY kids let alone teachers, administrators and other staff are going to be able to return safely to schools without a tremendous amount of mitigation which the president is roundly rejecting. Too bad it isn’t his decision and yet ironically enough he only has himself to blame. His Machiavellian machinations have only made things worse, but can’t say i’m too surprised. It’s obvious he never received a proper education himself!

  10. Mirza Zubair says

    Well good what is going on with survey?

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