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Memphis teacher tests positive for COVID 2 days into in-person training

Promise Academy - Hollywood required teachers to wear masks and sit at separate tables during the mandatory training that started Tuesday.
Getty Images/Mint Images RF

A teacher at a Memphis charter school reported testing positive for COVID-19 two days after starting mandatory in-person training.

The teacher training at Promise Academy - Hollywood started Tuesday and is expected to continue because the staff member did not come into “close contact” with other employees, said Thomas Beazley, the charter network’s executive director. That’s why staff weren’t informed about their colleague’s test results, he said.

The case is the first reported this summer as some Memphis schools prepare staff to welcome students in person next month. About 80% of public school students are under Shelby County Schools and will start the academic year online. But some suburban schools, charter schools, and state-run schools plan to have a mix of online and in-person instruction.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines close contact risk for infection as interaction with an infected person within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes. Promise Academy performed daily temperature checks during the teacher training and required staff to wear masks and remain 6 feet away from each other.

Beazley said all activities planned for the 30 staff at teacher training took place in the cafeteria, where people sat at different tables, or via video conferencing with teachers sitting in their own classrooms.

“The school followed the protocol that had been set up. I’m sorry the employee tested positive. But as we know, it’s going to happen,” he told Chalkbeat. He said the cafeteria and classrooms are sanitized nightly.

Photos posted on the Facebook and Instagram pages for Promise Academy’s other campus, Spring Hill, show inconsistencies in staff social distancing and mask wearing. One photo showed staff wearing masks at separate tables, another showed staff wearing masks in close proximity, and another had a mix of staff in close proximity, some wearing masks and some not. (The Instagram post was taken down after Chalkbeat asked questions.)

Beazley said some of the photos showed staffers disregarding school protocol, but that it’s possible the staff members only took their masks off for the photo and put them back on after.

“I don’t know the context,” Beazley said. “It may not have at that particular second shown the protocol, but they’re there.”

Beazley said the Hollywood school contacted the Shelby County health department after the employee notified the school of their infection Thursday morning.

Promise Academy, which operates two charter schools in Memphis and enrolls about 800 students altogether, is planning to start classes online and in person Aug. 26. That could change if the health department recommends against in-person learning as cases continue to rise in Memphis and Tennessee.

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