Hamilton County School Students Can Return To School Safely Says COVID Response Lead

HCS Covid Lead Says Schools Can Safely Open And Operate Without Significantly Contributing To The Spread Of The Virus. However, Many Say The Decision To Reopen Schools Came Much Too Late, At The Expense Of Children’s Education, Health And Well-Being.

Chattanooga, Tennessee At Night

Published February 2, 2021 

Hamilton County, TN – During an update from Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson, Hamilton County School’s COVID Response Lead, Jennifer Bronson, stated that research as recent as January 28th mirrors Hamilton County School’s own experiences and observations. 

“Schools can safely open and operate without significantly contributing to the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” Bronson said, “they can operate even when the spread in the community is high.” 

Mask-wearing, social distancing, avoiding gatherings and so forth were given credit by Bronson for the district’s “Success” during the Fall semester. 

Superintendent Johnson expressed that students were able to be campus for 84 days during the first semester due to the efforts of the Reopening Taskforce, including the doctors involved. 

“We’ve learned so much more about COVID-19 since opening schools in August,” Bronson said. 

Bronson urged that as schools reopen and children return to in-person learning, “let’s double down on our commitment to the S.A.F.E. pledge and our safe behaviors.” 

“We know that the second semester on campus that’s ahead of us will have its challenges but we are confident that together, we will achieve great things,” Johnson said. 

Johnson thanked the reopening task force, leaders and teachers across the district that continue to provide input for the school administration for the operation of the schools. 

However, many believe that the decision to move forward with in-person learning amid the Pandemic came much too late. 

X-Files Style - The Truth Is Not Out There

Hamilton County School Board Member, Rhonda Thurman, stated that “We will never, never catch up the year’s-worth of education these students have lost.”  

The learning loss associated with school closures garnered state-wide attention from Governor Bill Lee when he expressed that Tennessee’s education system was struggling pre-COVID and that the pandemic has deepened those challenges. 

In late September, preliminary projections by the Tennessee Department of Education stated that Tennessee could expect to see reading proficiency among third-graders to drop by 50%, and math proficiency to drop by 65% because of COVID-19-related school closures. 

Governor Lee has now called for all Tennessee schools to resume in-person learning by February 15th. 

“You can’t say, ‘Follow the science,’ and keep schools closed. You can’t say, ‘I believe in public education,’ and keep schools closed. And you can’t say you’re putting the needs of students first and keep schools closed,” Lee said.  

Back in mid-November, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said his agency never recommended schools close in the Spring nor did they recommend schools should be closed even in November. 

“The truth is, for kids K through 12, one of the safest places they can be from our perspective is to remain in school,” Redfield said. 

“Today, there’s extensive data that we’ve gathered over the last two to three months to confirm that K-12 schools can operate with face-to-face learning and they can do it safely and they can do it responsibly,” he said. 

One has to wonder, if the Hamilton County School District’s decision to resume in-person learning at this point is due, in part, to the fear of potential defunding looming on the horizon. 

A bill introduced by GOP leaders in the State legislature, if passed, would give the Tennessee Education Commissioner authority to withhold all or a part of state funding from school districts if they fail to provide a minimum of 70 days of in-person learning this school year and the full 180 days of in-person learning next school year for all kindergarten through eighth-grade students. 

“The concern that I think most of us had toward the beginning of this pandemic that schools would serve as kind of a super-spreader location if you had children in school, that fear has just not borne out into reality, thank goodness,” Tennessee House Majority Leader William Lamberth said. 

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