Should schools reopen this fall? Hamilton County Schools officials want to know

District launches survey to gather public feedback on reopening schools this fall amid COVID-19 pandemic

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Superintendent Bryan Johnson, center, speaks during a press conference announcing the formation of a task force in the Hamilton County Schools board room on Tuesday, May 12, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. The task force is being formed to begin plans and preparation to reopen schools this fall.

Sending elementary students to school while middle and high school students stay home, alternating daily school schedules, continued virtual learning and reduced class sizes - these are all options that Hamilton County Schools is considering for conducting school this fall.

The district's reopening task force launched a survey this week seeking input from students, parents, teachers and community members on how to safely reopen school this August amid the global coronavirus pandemic.

Hamilton County public schools have been closed since March 16, even prior to Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee's recommendation that school districts statewide stay closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year.

The first, looming question on everyone's minds is: Are parents ready and willing to send their children back into the classroom?

"People's perceptions might be driven by the situation that currently exists in Hamilton County and now [that] we are seeing an increase in the number of positive cases," said Keith Fogleman, chief talent officer for the district and co-chairman of the committee. "What we are really looking for is input from the community."

This is the first of several surveys people can expect to see, Fogleman said, especially as the district develops more concrete plans for the next academic year and as the first day of school approaches.

The survey asks students, parents and teachers to rank priorities that include having both in-person and online learning options, supporting students' social and emotional needs, protecting student and staff health and even just making sure students have a place to go every day.

It also seeks to gather information on technology and internet access from students. A lack of reliable access to internet is one of the biggest barriers for remote learning, and despite Chattanooga's efforts to increase access, district officials estimate around 25% of students don't have access to the internet or a computer at home.

The survey also asks for input on whether students and staff should be required to wear masks, something the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends, but doesn't mandate, whether students should have to report via a symptom checker app each day, and what type of social distancing measure such as reducing class sizes, staggering recesses and limiting visitors to school buildings should be implemented.

Both Fogleman and his co-chairman, Lt. Col. William Brooks, said any option presented in the survey is a realistic option or possibility.

"We aren't at a stage to rule anything out," Fogleman told the Times Free Press on Thursday. "We'll use that to really have us help start shaping and come to some very specific solutions."

Superintendent Bryan Johnson launched the task force in May. The Tennessee Department of Education has yet to issue any statewide guidance for reopening schools this fall but several Hamilton County district officials are taking part in a state-led task force made up of district leaders from around Southeast Tennessee.

Hamilton County Schools' own task force met for the first time Thursday. There isn't a plan now to make the meetings public, according to Fogleman.

"We have a variety of people from school board members, medical personnel and more importantly parents, student advisory representatives and principals and teachers across every grade level [elementary, middle and high school] serving on the task force," Brooks said. "Once we have our meeting and get our committee formed, we will be able to get moving."

Brooks added that the district is pleased with the number of survey responses so far. The survey is available online until the end of business on Monday, June 8.

To take the survey, visit here.

Contact Meghan Mangrum at or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.