Sumner County Schools’ middle and high school students returned to in-person classes on a full-time basis on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

Other than the 4,000 or so students enrolled in the district’s virtual academy, it is the first time all students in the district have attended in-person classes five days a week since a global COVID-19 pandemic sent all students home in March.

Students returned to school on Aug. 3 following a hybrid schedule – attending class two days a week and learning from home the other three days. Students in pre-K through the fifth grade and CDC students returned to in-person classes full time on Aug. 17.

The school district had previously said they would announce plans in two-week intervals with a decision about resuming in-person classes on a full-time basis for middle and high school students expected Sept. 9.

Parents and students were notified of the full-time return on Friday, Sept. 4.

Sumner County Schools Spokesperson Jeremy Johnson said the school district decided to fully re-open after Labor Day weekend because of a significant drop in the number of active COVID-19 cases throughout the county. 

“Our numbers have dropped significantly over the past two weeks,” said Johnson. “Our entire goal with the plan has been to get back to full-time, in-person instruction as soon as possible. Based on our numbers, we felt like this was a good time to go back to our traditional model.”

Johnson said that Sumner County schools will remain in the traditional model until further notice unless there is a significant rise in the number of active COVID-19 cases throughout the county.

According to the school district’s Pathway to Re-entry Plan, all Sumner students would return to a traditional schedule of in-person classes if there is community spread rate of less than .5 percent.

The community spread rate is calculated by taking the total number of active COVID-19 cases in Sumner County, dividing by the county’s population of 191,283 and multiplying by 100. The number of active cases can be found each day on the Tennessee Department of Health’s website.

The number of active cases dropped dramatically from Sept. 2 (873 cases) to 280 cases on Sept. 3.

The significant drop can be attributed to a change in the way the Tennessee Department of Health is calculating active cases, according to Department of Health Communications Director Shelley Walker.

Walker said the change in the calculation is based on evolving knowledge about the illness, particularly in regard to the length of time for which people are infectious.

“Early in the COVID-19 outbreak, public health staff members conducted ongoing individual follow-up with cases to accurately answer the question, ‘has this case recovered?’” she said. “As case volume increased and long-term individual follow-up was not feasible, TDH began applying a 21-day automatic cutoff for this question.”

Walker said that before the process was updated last week, the number of active cases was calculated by subtracting the number of recovered cases and deceased cases from the total number of cases.

“Because stakeholders are using the number of “Active” cases to make decisions about the disease burden in their communities, it’s important that this metric be as accurate as possible,” she said. “Recent data from the CDC show most patients with COVID-19 are no longer infectious after 10 days, although they may have lingering symptoms for some time.”

Walker said that moving forward, the department will no longer report recovered cases and will instead  report the number of “Inactive/Recovered” cases to include people who are 14 days or more beyond their illness onset date (or, for asymptomatic individuals, their specimen collection date), and who are not deceased.

“This will more closely align with the understood infectious period of COVID-19,” she said.

On Tuesday, Sept. 8, there were 247 active COVID-19 cases in Sumner County, putting the county spread rate at .13 percent.

Johnson said the school district had received a lot of feedback from middle and high school parents who were ready for their students to return on a full-time basis.

“They are ready to return to that full-time routine and we felt it was beneficial to go back [this] week,” he said.