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The Impact of Coronavirus on Public Education

Wednesday, March 11, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Professional Educators of TN
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 As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads through the United States, the impact on student instruction resulting from school closures will pose new challenges for teachers and administrators alike, such that we have not dealt with before. Elected leaders across the nation and world have taken appropriate actions. However, experts still tell us the risk of developing severe illness from the new coronavirus, COVID-19, is low for most people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mirroring the steps other countries have taken to combat the spread of the virus, social-distancing policies are helping to drive down the number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases in places such as China. U.S. businesses have already begun to implement work-from-home policies as well as broad cancellations of large events nationwide. President Trump has now limited travel from Europe, and the United States is taking unparalleled actions in response to the virus. 
Beginning last week, schools in Williamson County closed their doors and implemented large scale cleaning procedures when possible COVID-19 contamination may have occurred. Shortly before 10:00 p.m. tonight, Metro Nashville Public Schools began alerting families that they will close the remainder of this week, in advance of next week’s scheduled Spring Break, during which time they will be considering long-term contingencies. As more individuals are tested, it is expected that the number of infected will rise in the United State and Tennessee, which means more possibilities for students and school staff to test positive for the virus or have been in contact with someone who has. While there are not currently any warnings or restrictions regarding domestic travel, with families across Tennessee traveling out-of-state for Spring Breaks in coming weeks, there are bound to be increased concerns.

The University of Tennessee-Knoxville has already announced the suspension of all in-person classes and will offer them online because of concerns about the coronavirus beginning March 23 and they will be suspended until at least April 3. Classes at UT Chattanooga will be suspended until at least March 30. Several public-school districts in other parts of the United State are already preparing for school closures, with some districts informing students that closure could last as long as 30 days or more. This could push instruction well into the summer months, and may certainly impact the academic calendar. 
How does this impact student learning and what can be done to lessen the disrupted instruction? Distance or online learning is one manner some districts could consider continuing instruction. However, most district schools, students, and educators are not ready to quickly switch to online and distance learning models. Even where students have been issued laptops and tablets, there is no guarantee that they will have access to the internet at home. Some students don’t do well in a cyber environment as distance learning is not effective without proper supervision. There is also the question of how it might impact the statewide TNReady testing window that is scheduled to begin soon.
The Tennessee Department of Health has launched a Tennessee Coronavirus Public Information Line in partnership with the Tennessee Poison Center. The hotline number is 877-857-2945 and will be available from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. CT daily. Additional resources for the education community regarding COVID-19 can be found at: 
Collaboration and open communication between administrators, educators, school staff, parents, and students will be the best way to prepare for school closures and how to handle the possible disruption of student learning. Implementing best practices and procedures will help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The CDC recommends the following: 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. 

What we are seeing is the public health community trying to catch up to the speed of the virus. The public-school community will have to adjust as quickly. We need to take this virus seriously. Coronavirus (COVID-19) could have an impact for a long time. 





JC Bowman is the Executive Director and Audrey Shores is the COO of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. To schedule an interview please call 1-800-471-4867 ext.102.

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