Cumberland County High School history teacher Michael DiBiccaro knows the value of an academic field trip.
In year’s past, he has taken his junior American history classes to the Hermitage in Nashville while studying slavery in the pre-Civil War South and, in the spring, to Oak Ridge to learn of the Secret City and its role in the Manhattan Project.
“There’s nothing like going to the Hermitage [home of President Andrew Jackson] and looking at the slave quarters, the cotton and seeing how he lived to understand the context — the good, the bad and ugly of history,” DiBiccaro said.
This year, however, he wasn’t able to take students on those trips.
His plan had called for social distancing, safety protocols and masks on the bus and during the trip. He even had a seating plan for the bus trip to Nashville.
His administrators said the opening plan didn’t allow academic trips. He spoke with Director of Schools Ina Maxwell, who also was unable to approve the plan due to the opening plan approved by the board.
“The only people who can do anything are five school board members,” DiBiccaro said. “There may not be time, but I’m asking you to authorize academic field trips or, at the very least, please allow the director of schools to authorize them on a case-by-case basis.
“As long as you have a plan and it’s safe — whatever that means — and it makes sense, then we should be able to do it because academic students have lost out this year.”
DiBiccaro pointed out other school groups have been allowed to travel, including sports teams and clubs.
“I support sports. I support clubs,” he said.
But sporting events had large crowds in the gym, and players were not required to mask while playing.
Athletic events are to follow Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association protocols and local rules. During basketball season, there were limits on the number of spectators and there were masks and temperature checks upon entering.
However, some board members said they were not sure those directives were followed.
“I know they required a mask to get in, but I don’t know how strict it was once they get in,” Inman said.
With year-end events planned for graduation, class night and prom, Rob Safdie, 2nd District representative, questioned how the board should proceed.
“On one side, people are saying they don’t need to wear masks at the graduation ceremony. And other people are saying with a group of 400 students, they should not only have masks but social distance if we have a public graduation,” he asked.
Mindy Doyle, director of the Cumberland County Health Department, referred to CDC guidelines to wear masks, practice social distancing and to get vaccinated.
“We did assist last year in all of the graduation ceremonies taking temperatures and making sure any of those people who come in were not symptomatic,” she said. “But we have since learned that there are asymptomatic carriers. That is another reason why we ask that everybody wear masks.”
Stace Karge, 9th District representative, moved to allow educational field trips provided safety protocols including masking and social distancing were observed, supported by Teresa Boston, 8th District representative.
The motion was unanimously approved.
Anita Hale, 4th District representative, asked if the board would also allow special programs and assemblies, which were also not included in the reopening plan.
These, too, would need to stay within safety parameters, Maxwell said. That could mean reduced capacity to maintain social distancing at events.
Hamby moved to allow programs and assemblies, supported by Chris King, 6th District representative. The motion was unanimously approved.
Maxwell added principals and assistant principals and school faculty and staff have worked throughout the year to celebrate student successes even without school assemblies.
“They try to provide as much normalcy as possible,” she said.