State Ed Commissioner visits Clinton, Campbell schools; Department debuts new COVID tool

Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education, Penny Schwinn, made three stops in East Tennessee on Wednesday as part of whirlwind, mini-tour of school systems.

One of those stops was at Clinton Elementary School, where Schwinn praised the three-school city system for its reopening efforts, which so far have yielded no positive tests for COVID-19 among either students or staff members. While at CES, Schwinn also spent time in a few classrooms and interacted with students and staff alike.

The commissioner’s trip to East Tennessee also included stops at LaFollette Middle School in Campbell County and a school in Union County.

Wednesday’s visit coincided with the slightly-delayed rollout of the Department of Education’s new COVID-19 tracking dashboard that, as the name implies, tracks and provides weekly updates on the virus for schools and districts across the state.

As of Wednesday afternoon’s rollout, the dashboard was not reporting data on every school district in Tennessee, but officials say they decided to go ahead and launch it after receiving data from over half of the 147 school systems across the state. Officials had announced earlier in the week that the launch needed to be delayed due to technical issues with reporting for numerous schools.

TDOE expects the dashboard to be up and running in full by September 22.

As of Wednesday’s debut, four of the six school districts that fall within WYSH and WQLA’s primary service area, had reported their data to the state.

In Anderson County, where the Clinton High School football season has been put on “pause” for two weeks due to COVID-related issues, officials reported a total of 12 cases among students in the system and between one to five staff members. The data does not include information about individual schools and it should be noted, as well, that if there are fewer than five cases among a particular group, the exact number will not be reported, just an entry of “<5.” That data was last updated by the county on September 4th.

In Clinton City Schools, the state dashboard reflects no positive tests among students or staff.

The Oak Ridge City School system reports that there are between one and five cases among students and staff alike this week.

The Morgan County School system reports a total of seven cases among students and fewer than five cases reported by staff members.

As of Thursday morning (9/10/20), neither Campbell nor Roane county’s data had been uploaded to the state dashboard.

The dashboard displays information reported by districts about the number of weekly positive COVID-19 cases by district. The department said the sharing of student information is fiercely protected by federal privacy laws, so schools with fewer than 50 students will not be reported on the dashboard.

Commissioner Schwinn said this week that, “this dashboard strikes an important balance in protecting student privacy while providing parents, educators, and community members with information they need to make the best possible decisions for their families.”

Schwinn said the department is “working closely with districts to support their reporting and encourage them to update information on a weekly basis.”

You can check out the dashboard for yourself by following this link, where you will be able to view the data in map form, or by using a drop-down menu to select the specific district’s data you are looking for.

(Original TDOE press release announcing COVID Dashboard)

[On Thursday, September 3rd], the Tennessee Department of Education released plans to report additional COVID-19 information at school and district levels, including numbers of new positive COVID-19 cases in districts and schools.  

Parents and community members are working to make informed decisions, and we have determined the best path that balances informed decision making with our obligation to student privacy,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “We believe this resource will not only help parents but will inform how COVID-19 is affecting student attendance, chronic absenteeism and overall student attainment.”   

Next week, as the final two districts in the state begin the new school year, a new dashboard will launch on the department’s website that will display information reported by districts about COVID-19 in their communities, and whether or how positive cases within a school may impact the way teachers deliver instruction to students.  

The sharing of student information is stringently protected under the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and protecting personally identifiable information of our youngest Tennesseans is critically important. To ensure protections of individual privacy, schools with fewer than 50 students will not be reported in the dashboard. For schools reporting under five positive student or employee COVID-19 cases, the school will be listed without a specific number of cases for the category. 

At the district level, the dashboard will provide district-reported information on the number of new positive COVID-19 cases amongst students, the number of new positive COVID-19 cases amongst staff, and the primary operating model for schools within the district, including the number of schools conducting in-person learning, the number of schools conducting remote learning, and the number of schools utilizing a hybrid approach for instruction. In addition, the dashboard will display whether the district has adopted a critical infrastructure designation for certain workers, as well as a link to the district’s Continuous Learning Plan (CLP) which outlines how the district plans to administer remote learning.  

At the school level, the dashboard will provide district-reported information on the number of new positive COVID-19 cases amongst students, number of new positive COVID-19 cases amongst staff, and whether adjustments from the district’s primary operating model have been made within the school. Students and staff listed as positive does not necessarily indicate they contracted COVID-19 at the school building. 

Users will have two ways to access information:  

  • A map view— An interactive map of the state of Tennessee will enable users to hover over their county or region and select their school to reveal more information.  
  • And a menu view—A drop-down menu will allow users to quickly select a particular district of interest to reveal more information.  

To protect individual privacy, schools with fewer than 50 students are not reported in this data.  Further, for schools reporting a number that is fewer than five positive student or employee COVID-19 cases, the school will be listed without a specific number of cases for the category.   

Of the state’s 147 school districts, 145 are open for the school year with the remaining two beginning their school year on September 8. The department will be working closely with districts to support their reporting and encourage them to update information on a weekly basis. Districts will receive instructions for reporting this information to the department as well as technical assistance when needed. 

For access to additional resources related to reopening schools, visit the Tennessee Department of Education’s Reopening webpage: https://www.tn.gov/education/health-and-safety/update-on-coronavirus/reopening-guidance.html

About Jim Harris

Jim Harris has been WYSH's News & Sports Director since 2000. In addition to reporting local news, he is the play-by-play voice for Clinton High School football, boys' and girls' basketball and baseball. Catch Jim live weekdays beginning at 6:20 am for live local news, sports, weather and traffic plus the Community Bulletin Board, shenanigans with Ron Meredith and more on the Country Club Morning Show on WYSH & WQLA. Jim lives in Clinton with his wife Kelly and daughter Carolina, his mother-in-law and cats Lucius and Oliver.

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