Like Shelby County, COVID-19 reporting among schools statewide is random

By , Daily Memphian Updated: August 19, 2020 9:38 AM CT | Published: August 18, 2020 10:10 PM CT

As schools open statewide, there is no standard operating procedure when it comes to tracking COVID-19 cases and reporting outbreaks either to parents or the public at large.

Similar to the situation in Shelby County, some school districts statewide are prepared to notify parents and the public about outbreaks, while others are only notifying the parents of children who may have come into contact with a positive case.

Metro Nashville Public Schools students are taking classes virtually, so reporting on individual schools hasn’t been an issue yet, said spokesman Sean Braisted.

“Once we are able to open for in-person instruction, the plan would be to inform parents in the event of an exposure at school,” he said. “We would notify individually those students or staff who were required to quarantine as a result of potential exposure or being defined as close contact.”

Rutherford County Schools, just southeast of Metro Nashville, has experienced COVID-19 cases at more than one school, which was expected when the district put its policy in place, said district spokesman James Evans.

In each of those cases, the schools notify the parents if it involves their students, Evans said.

The district’s policy is to keep parents informed if a COVID-19 situation affects a student or classroom. If there is a bigger situation, such as school temporarily switching to distance learning because of COVID-19, the district will alert parents and the public.

In case of a larger closing, such as a cluster of schools or the district as a whole, the system will alert parents and the public so everyone has the same information, Evans said.

In fact, Rutherford reported Tuesday that Smyrna Elementary School is under quarantine and will teach through distance-learning. It joins Christiana Middle School as the second of the district’s 49 schools to teach children virtually due to COVID-19.

Hamilton County Schools (Chattanooga) officials are also waiting for direction from the state about reporting total cases for individual schools, but the district is notifying parents as soon as a case is reported in a school, spokesman Tim Hensley said.

It doesn’t specify whether it involves a student, staff or visitor.

Hensley also said the district is tracking COVID-19 on its website but only for staff. A section for students is still not active.

Putnam County Schools, however, is tracking cases at individual schools and putting the numbers on its website. 

Gov. Bill Lee reversed course Tuesday from a promise two weeks ago to make school cases public and said the state will not release information on COVID-19 cases at individual schools because of federal health privacy laws.

Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said Tuesday school districts can make their own decisions on releasing information based on consultation with school board attorneys.

The Tennessee Department of Health is providing data on cases among school-aged children in each county on its website:

The Department of Education is encouraging districts to update information daily on their instruction plan – whether in-person, virtual or hybrid – based on any changes.

The dashboard can be found at


COVID-19 School reopening
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter with more than 30 years of journalism experience as a writer, editor and columnist covering the state Legislature and Tennessee politics for The Daily Memphian.


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