Schools moving forward with August opening

Schools in the Diocese of Nashville are planning to welcome students back to the classroom in August. Schools are already preparing for the new academic year. Dan Singelyn, director of technology for Pope John Paul II High School, prepares an iPad for use by a student. The school is entering its third year of providing every student with an iPad that can be used both in the classroom or when working from home. Photo by Andy Telli

Students at Catholic schools in the Diocese of Nashville will be returning to the classroom when the new school year begins in August, Superintendent Rebecca Hammel told parents in a letter released on Wednesday, July 8.

“With the start of the new school year just weeks away, I am pleased to announce that our diocesan Catholic schools will welcome our students back to campus and resume face-to-face learning in August,” Hammel wrote. 

“Informed by guidance from our local and state health departments, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), as well as collaboration with multiple health professionals and fellow educators, new measures to protect our community members and learning environment are in place at each building,” she said. “It is important for us adhere to these protocols in order to minimize risk to our students, parents, faculty and staff and to keep our campuses open.”

Each school will distribute to parents its protocols to protects students, faculty and staff from the COVID-19 virus, Hammel said. The protocols have been prepared specifically for each school community. 

“These were developed locally and align with guidance compiled by the Catholic Schools Office and the local county health departments and schools,” Hammel said of the protective protocols. “Principals have secured the necessary equipment to proactively preserve the learning environment and updated plans for remote learning if circumstances force any one of our schools back into that scenario.”

“I recognize there are students who have underlying medical conditions and may need to remain at home,” Hammel said. “Please consult with your school administrators to determine the feasibility of home-bound remote studies in specific cases.”

The schools plan to remain open for face-to-face learning unless government officials direct otherwise, Hammel said. 

“We will continue to actively monitor COVID-19 conditions throughout our communities,” she added. “Any decision to transition to remote learning will be made in partnership between pastors, principals and the Catholic Schools Office.”

Diocesan schools closed their campuses in March as the COVID-19 pandemic began to worsen. The schools shifted to distance learning to complete the school year.

In the letter, Hammel noted that the American Academy of Pediatrics is promoting a physical return to school, stating that the benefits far outweigh the risk, especially with precautionary measures in place. 

“The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts of children because of school closures in the spring of 2020,” according to the AAP’s guidance on reopening schools. 

Jacob Lann, a 2020 graduate of Pope John Paul II High School, pressure washes the sidewalk around the football field to get the campus ready for the new school year. Photo by Andy Telli

“Considering this and reports from other countries that have opened school successfully, the decision to return to in-person learning is deemed most appropriate for our schools,” Hammel said.

Hammel noted that a Davidson County task force that developed a plan for reopening schools initially presented phases that would determine when schools would reopen. “Having served on the task force to develop this plan, I can share with certainty that phases are no longer the sole determinant for opening Davidson County,” Hammel said. “The task force agreed that individual school systems will make the decisions most appropriate for their schools.”

Of the 19 Catholic elementary and high schools in the Diocese of Nashville, there are eight diocesan schools and three independent Catholic schools in Davidson County. And Pope John Paul II High School is located in Sumner County on the Davidson-Sumner county line.

“As we open our schools again, we will expect commitment to on-campus learning or remote learning for regular intervals of time,” Hammel said. “Consistent educational programming and rhythm of learning are key to our students’ success, as are happy, healthy and holy relationships with their peers in the comfort of the school community.”

Hammel closed her letter by saying, “I thank you for your support of Catholic education; it is a gift to your children that bears fruit eternally.”