This story was updated on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020 at 7:30 p.m. with additional information.
NASHVILLE — State education officials launched Tennessee's new COVID-19 reporting website on Wednesday, which shows 756 active coronavirus cases among students and staff in public and public charter K-12 schools.
The data is incomplete, with just over half of state school systems providing information so far.
Set to launch on Tuesday but delayed due to initial technical issues, the Department of Education's dashboard made its debut Wednesday afternoon.
Figures show 514 active cases for students and another 242 active cases among school district staff.
Some districts, including Hamilton County, already provide some information on their websites regarding active COVID-19 cases. Hamilton County Schools reported 28 active student cases and 15 active staff cases as of Wednesday, and said that Ooltewah High School would be closed on Thursday for cleaning as a result of infection.
The state dashboard showed Hamilton County with no data yet. Other districts in the region were listed as not reporting, or having fewer than five cases — except for McMinn County, which listed six new student cases this week.
The state education department wants school districts to submit information on positive COVID-19 cases at the district and school level on a weekly basis going forward. State Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn's office also wants to know whether or how positive cases are affecting the way teachers deliver instruction to students.
While over half of districts have submitted data for this first week of reporting, Schwinn expects full reporting across every district starting this coming Tuesday.
"Tennessee has led the way in supporting districts for a safe return to school, opening classrooms for the new school year, and now providing the public with information around how COVID-19 may be impacting their school communities through a district-populated dashboard," Schwinn said in a news release.
The dashboard, the commissioner added, "strikes an important balance in protecting student privacy while providing parents, educators and community members with information they need to make the best possible decisions for their families."
Officials also cited several caveats for the public to understand. For example, the data is self-reported by school districts and public charter schools to the Tennessee Department of Education on a weekly basis. The department "cannot verify and makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the data presented. This data is provisional and subject to change," the state's website says.
Also, the data may be different than what is reported by a school, district or other entity, reasons being the timing of reporting or other factors. And the data may be different than county-level information reported by the Tennessee Department of Health due to timing of reporting and other factors.
And while school districts and public charter schools are requested to report positive COVID-19 cases to state education officials they "are not mandated to do so by law or regulation," the department says.
There are several other limitations to the information: In order protect individuals' privacy, schools with fewer than 50 students are not reported on the state's dashboard. And if a school is reporting fewer than five positive student or employee COVID-19 cases, the school will be listed without a specific number of cases for the category.
Gov. Bill Lee, Schwinn and Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey's decision to release the data came after state officials initially refused, saying they were barred from doing so under federal privacy laws.
But in response to continued complaints, which noted individual schools and districts and some other states were often releasing information, the Lee administration consulted with federal officials and others to come up with a plan for reporting to provide more information to students, parents and the public while avoiding compromising individuals' privacy.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.
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