SCHOOL SCRAMBLE: LEE’S NEW EMERGENCY ORDER PUTS DICKSON CLASSROOM RETURN IN LIMBO

By Dave Barkholz

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Governor Bill Lee’s state-of-emergency declaration could have a big impact on the start of the school year for Dickson County public school students.
Already in response, districts have delayed the start of the high school football and soccer seasons, including Dickson County High School‘s first football game on August 21.
The big question now is whether the governor’s new executive order throws a wrench in the district’s plans to return students fully to a normal, five-day classroom schedule in the fall. 
That was the intention of Dickson County Schools before Governor Lee Monday extended his emergency orders to at least August 29.
Perhaps the most striking provision to schools was one kept in place that limits gatherings to 50 people or less.
Now, districts like Dickson County Schools that thought they were on course for a normal classroom reopening of schools are looking again at possibly opening with either online classes or some hybrid of part-time in the classroom and the rest online. The district starts school one way or another on August 3.
But it’s too soon to tell how the Governor’s emergency order will affect the opening, said Dickson County Schools Director Danny Weeks.
Weeks said in a statement Wednesday that “the new executive order may impact our ability to open with a regular schedule.”
He notes, however, that superintendents from around the state have calls this week with Tennessee’s education commissioner as well as the leadership of the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents.
By Monday, Weeks said, the district should have a better idea where guidance is pointing for the school-year opening.
Governor Lee extended the state of emergency just as it was about to lapse on June 30. 
The social-distancing guidance in the new executive order is very similar to what’s been in place for several weeks – rules that forced attendance to be limited last month at the senior graduation ceremonies at Dickson County High School and Creek Wood High School held outdoors.
The Achilles’s Heel to proper social-distancing at the schools may not be so much the classrooms and hallways as buses.
Classrooms can be arranged with desks spaced and pointing in the same direction. Students can be required to wear masks.
But buses are a different story. When fully loaded, they are crammed with about 85 kids sitting in rows, two to a seat.
Six-foot social distancing, however, reduces bus capacity to less than 30 children with one child per seat and every other row left empty.
Reduced bus capacity would be a big factor in forcing the district to alternate days in the classroom for students, even if those classrooms could be deemed safe for social-distancing purposes.

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