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Letter from the Director – Aug. 11

August 11, 2020

house, millard

Good evening, CMCSS families,

As we get closer to the first day of school in just three short weeks, our community is experiencing a wide range of emotions from excitement to apprehension to fear. When the CMCSS Communicable Disease Team (CDT) made the decision to close schools on Fri., Mar. 13, I hoped and prayed that the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic would improve quickly in our community and across the globe. However, a few weeks later we had to close school buildings for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. Today, five months later, America is still in a national emergency.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advocated in late June that all policy considerations for the coming school year start with a goal of having students physically present in school, but CMCSS was already ahead of that guidance. Having served over 25 years in public education, I know how important it is to have students in the schoolhouse. My career as a teacher and principal began in high-needs, low-socioeconomic schools in Tulsa, OK. It was during these years that I came to understand that while educators must remain focused on the academic growth and achievement of each child, in order to meet those benchmarks, schools have to meet students’ other needs. School is a safe haven for many students. A place where they feel loved, appreciated, and empowered. A place where children can have access to meals, school counselors and nurses, the arts and physical education, reliable internet access, special services, and so much more. An environment where structure, self-discipline, soft skills, and social and emotional learning are taught and reinforced. While schools are often measured only by standardized test scores, any educator can tell you that we also measure our success by meeting the needs of the whole child.

With this understanding and the goal established by the AAP, the CDT continues to review the latest guidance and mandates and refine the CMCSS Reopening Plan as needed for the health and safety of students, employees, and the entire community. Throughout this process, we have strived to have timely and transparent updates, and I want to be open and honest about some of the challenges we are facing:

Suspected Case Quarantines: Last week, the Tennessee Department of Health (TDOH) released new guidance to school districts stating “Any student or staff member who has been in close contact (within 6 feet for 10 minutes or more) of a person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 must quarantine at home for a period of 14 days from their last exposure to that individual. This is not optional.” Based on this mandate to quarantine those based on suspected cases, the CDT anticipates a significant increase in the number of rolling closures and student/employee quarantines when school is back in session.

  • Over the past month, the CMCSS Safety and Health Department in conjunction with the Montgomery County Health Department has investigated over 35 suspected cases involving athletics and over 60 suspected cases involving employees.
  • Last Friday was the largest CMCSS-related quarantine directed by the Montgomery County Health Department with over 60 student-athletes given a 14-day quarantine.

CMCEA Resolution: Yesterday morning, I received a resolution from the president of the Clarksville-Montgomery County Education Association (CMCEA) calling on CMCSS to “begin school remotely until the number of COVID-19 cases is < 10 new cases per 100,000 persons per day for at least 14 days in a row with an infection rate of 0.5 or below as recommended by health professionals.” Around 40% of CMCSS’ teachers are members of CMCEA.

Employee Comfortability Survey: The district recently dispatched a survey to all 5,000+ employees regarding comfortability with returning to an in-person setting. With a 60% response rate, 30.6% of employees are comfortable, 21.1% feel neutral, and 48.3% are uncomfortable with returning to a traditional, in-person setting on Aug. 31 for the 60% of students whose families chose that model. CMCSS cannot reopen schools without our teachers, staff, and administrators, so leaders will continue reviewing feedback and identifying opportunities to improve our safety and health protocols. Regarding the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) for CMCSS employees, since July 1, 22 employees have returned from FFCRA Leave and 20 employees are currently on FFCRA Leave. As of today, 5 requests have been submitted and are pending medical documentation and 3 Employees are in the processing of completing FFCRA paperwork.

COVID-19 Spread: On Sun., Aug. 9, Montgomery County for the first time moved to the medium spread category. As of today, Montgomery County is at 0.5% of COVID-19. Based on the recommendation of the Montgomery County Health Department (MCHD), if the community is at .5% or above for 5 out of 7 days, school buildings will close and traditional students will learn remotely until the community is below .5% for 10 out of 14 days. It is important to reiterate that CMCSS is looking at multiple matrices and other important factors as it makes decisions regarding moving individual schools or the entire district from traditional to remote. 

Faculty, staff, and administrators are continuing to prepare school buildings for a traditional, in-person return for those who chose that option for their children, and district leaders are continuing to navigate all of the challenges I mentioned above. Although CMCSS Senior Leadership and I are committed to making decisions in as timely a manner as possible so parents/guardians have time to prepare, these are unprecedented times. One thing we have all learned over the past five months is that we will continue to have peaks and valleys during the pandemic. As a father of two CMCSS students who has had to work with my family to make contingency plans, I cannot reiterate enough that families choosing traditional for their child(ren) should make preparations throughout the year in the event that individuals are quarantined and/or school buildings are closed and remote learning must take place. 

Together, we will continue educating and empowering the children of Clarksville-Montgomery County to reach their potential. Together, we will get through this pandemic.

Sincerely,

Millard L. House II,

Director of Schools