Del Phillips (2) 2

Del Phillips

When Sumner County students return to school on Aug. 3, it’s not likely they’ll be required to wear masks, Director of Schools Del Phillips told School Board members last week.

Phillips discussed what he called a “10,000-feet view” re-entry plan for Sumner County Schools in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students’ last day in the classroom was March 13. They did not return from Spring Break as schools and businesses across the country shut down in order to control the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.  

Phillips said on June 16 that the school system was looking at different scenarios for minimal spread of the disease; moderate spread and substantial spread of the disease.

When board members started asking specific questions like if teachers would be required to wear masks and how the school system would handle situations where students tested positive for COVID-19, Phillips said a more specific re-entry plan would be released next month.

“In July we’ll give more meat to this,” Phillips said.

Phillips did say he expected social distancing to be a major component of the plan. He also said that masks would be recommended but not required.

Phillips will present the school system’s re-entry plan at a board study session scheduled for July 14.

When School Board member Betsy Hawkins asked about an email sent to board members from legal counsel suggesting that board members vote on a COVID-19 re-entry plan, Phillips said he didn’t think that was necessary.

School Board Chairman Tim Brewer agreed that the plan was more of an administrative function.

“We’ve got the best in the business and I trust them to put a plan in place,” said Brewer. “As far as running this school district I think these guys know what they’re doing… They’re the ones that have to implement it.”

When asked why the school system was waiting until mid-July to release a re-entry plan, Schools Spokesperson Jeremy Johnson said that administrators wanted to have the most up-to-date information related to COVID-19, and that the situation is constantly changing.

Johnson pointed decisions regarding high school graduations as an example.  

While graduation dates were rescheduled more than a month ago, the school system released on June 10 a plan for graduations that includes social distancing requirements and limits the number of people who can attend.

“At the time we were talking about doing the rescheduling the hope was that most of the restrictions would be lifted by the time we got to mid-June,” said Johnson. We moved [graduations] with the hopes that we would be able to hold graduation as normal. It didn’t quite work out that way so we made the adjustments we had to make based on the restrictions the state put out.”

The area’s high schools released their plans for graduations on June 10, limiting the number of guests who could attend to three or four based on the venue’s ability to seat the required 50 percent capacity by the state. 

When parents at four high schools that hold graduations at Long Hollow Baptist Church complained that they would have to watch students graduate in another room via a live feed, Phillips met with church staff to try to accommodate parents and students.

“They met and came up with a plan that will allow us to hand out diplomas in the sanctuary because that’s what the parents really wanted so we identified that as something that we could do,” said Johnson. “We kind of re-worked the logistics a little bit.”

While other school districts have had to hold drive-through or virtual graduations, Johnson said that even with the restrictions the feedback from students and parents has been largely appreciative that graduations will be held at all in Sumner County.

“We hoped that when we scheduled them in June that we would be able to have graduations as we always have,” he said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way so we made adjustments.”

The dates and times of graduations for Portland students is - Portland High School - Saturday, June 27, 10 a.m. at Long Hollow Baptist; and Middle Technical College High School at Portland – Saturday, June 27, 10 a.m. at Portland High School.

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