Erin McCullough and Elena Cawley
This week brought on another round of Middle Tennessee school system closures, including Tullahoma City Schools, as well as Coffee County, Franklin County and Manchester City systems.
Speaking with The News on Thursday morning, Lawson said the district was still faring well for a mid-February day.
However, by 4 p.m., Lawson said a spike in the number of ill teachers caused him to make the decision to keep students out of school today (Friday).
“The biggest change was the number of teachers we lost today,” he said.
“We had at least a half dozen teachers go home today due to illness, so that really created a secondary challenge that was really tough to accomplish in terms of covering classes.”
“Attendance always dips in the winter,” he said, but by yesterday afternoon he knew of 25 teachers who were going to be absent Friday — approximately 12 percent of the total workforce for TCS.
Lawson quickly put together another fun viral video to announce that schools were closing, which was posted via his Twitter account.
In it, Lawson suffers an abrupt coughing fit, prompting an unseen-but-clearly heard nurse (later identified by Lawson as Teresa Ford) to hand him a face mask and order him to “go home,” as well as remind everyone who is sick that they need to “stay home when they’re sick, take their medicine…wash their hands, drink lots of fluids and stay home until they are well.”
For Lawson, his hope is extending the long holiday weekend through Presidents Day on Monday will aid in the prevention of illnesses for Tullahoma students.
“Certainly, all are hopeful that a long weekend will assist the community in returning to a healthier state.”
Lawson added that he has “every reason to believe that we’ll be back in session Tuesday.”
In the interim, Lawson said that his custodial staff will do some disinfecting through the high school and the elementary schools, which he said were the hardest hit area.
“The middle (schools) were in pretty decent shape,” he said.
Coffee County Schools will be closed until Tuesday, Director of Coffee County Schools LaDonna McFall announced Thursday.
“We have to apply for approval from the Tennessee Department of Education when we feel we need to close for a reason such as illness,” McFall said.
McFall applied for approval on Wednesday afternoon.
“I decided to apply when our attendance rate steadily kept rising and our supply of substitutes diminished.”
Following approval by the state on Feb.16, Coffee County schools closed due to illness.
The percentage of absent students and teachers has steadily grown over the last few days, said McFall.
“Since last week, we went from six percent out to 7.4 percent and to 8.6 percent, and, yesterday (Wednesday) morning, we were at 10.4 percent absent,” McFall said. “By noon, we had climbed to 12.6 percent.”
Staff absences were at an all-time high, said McFall, and she decided to make the request.
“There is no magic number in terms of percent absent,” McFall said. “But some folks will look at the situation at around 10 percent. Some wait until it’s higher.”
Sometimes, said McFall, the decision to close schools is considered even if less than 10 percent of students and teachers are absent, especially if the staff is affected more than the students.
“Monday was already a scheduled day off for Presidents Day, so we are using two of our stockpiled days (Thursday and Friday),” McFall said.
Closing schools is not an easy but necessary measure, said McFall.
“It’s not an easy decision to close schools,” she said. “I am very aware that some of our students depend on us for food, shelter and supervision. It is a hardship for parents, but in some cases of inclement weather, or, in this case – extreme illness – it is necessary.”
Closing schools is an attempt to halt the spread of flu or flu-like illnesses, said McFall.
“We will not stop them, but we can help curb the spread by keeping folks at home,” she said. “We hope they are staying close to home and practicing healthy habits. We are cleaning and disinfecting the schools and hope these five days will be a time for rest and recuperation for our students and staff.”
According to the website of Manchester City Schools, the system also closed Feb. 16 and 17 due to sickness. Schools also will be closed on Monday for Presidents Day.