On Tuesday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced the state of Tennessee’s recommendations to reopen schools for the 2020-21 school year.
“Providing parents a choice in their children’s education is incredibly important,” said Gov. Lee. “In-person learning is the medically sound, preferred option. Our state is doing everything we can to work with local school districts and ensure that in-person learning is made available in a way that protects the health and safety of our students and educators, and this plan helps us accomplish that goal.”
“Leading health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics, and National Academies of Sciences, Mathematics, and Engineering, have all stressed the importance of in-person learning for students,” said Tennessee Commissioner of Health Dr. Lisa Piercey. “The Department of Health has worked with Department of Education to establish a protocol to keep school buildings open safely and cause minimal disruption when positive cases occur.”
“Tennessee is prioritizing health and safety of our school communities,” said Tennessee Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn. “Ensuring schools, teachers, families, and students have the critical resources and supports they need to start the new school year strong is paramount, and I am thankful to Governor Lee for continuing to support education in Tennessee as schools reopen across the state.”
The recommendations from the Department of Health and the Department of Education include: isolation and quarantine measures for anyone testing positive or has been within six feet of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19; contact tracing, and a new texting platform that will assist schools with notifying families of the need to quarantine.
Parents will also have the choice of choosing either in-person or virtual learning for their children.
For those who choose the virtual option, the State will provide free resources to supplement their district’s school-based services. The resources include:
- Early Literacy Resource: A free resource for students pre-K through 2nd grade to build foundational skills and support early literacy;
- PBS Learning Series: Complete lessons for 1st- 9th grade students in both math and ELA taught by Tennessee teachers;
- STE(A)M Resource Hub: Three challenges per week to spark creative thinking, design, and career exploration from the home;
- Start of the Year Checkpoint: A free and optional assessment to measure student performance at the beginning of the year and help inform educators about student readiness for the year ahead;
The state is providing no-cost PPE, including facemasks for any school stakeholder who wants or needs one, thermometers for every school, and face shields for every staff member. This includes 298,000 cloth reusable masks for teachers, and 27 million disposable masks for students distributed by the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.
Lee is also issuing Executive Order No. 55 to allow for contact sports to resume, provided they follow the requirements of TSSAA. Non-TSSAA schools must follow equivalent guidelines, and non-school-sponsored athletics should follow the Tennessee Pledge guidelines.
Tennessee Democratic Party Chair, Mary Mancini, feels that the governor’s plan is lacking.
“Gov. Lee’s plan to reopen schools in Tennessee does not follow guidelines from the Center for Disease Control (CDC),” she said in a press release. “The details of his executive order for reopening, which comes in the middle of a coronavirus surge with almost 95,000 cases and 965 Tennesseans dead, makes it clear that he is still ignoring CDC guidelines and the advice of medical experts. And in his push to reopen, he’s also ignoring the pleas from teachers who are begging for the continuation of remote learning until the spread of the virus is under control.”
“Lee’s executive order includes resuming contact sports even though 16% of cases of the coronavirus in Tennessee are under the age of 20 and not even professional baseball can’t get through a week of play without spreading the virus. He also doesn’t guarantee that families will be told of cases in individual schools or that everyone in the same class as a confirmed case will be quarantined, both of which are in conflict with CDC guidelines. Lee also ignores the number one consideration outlined by the CDC—that schools should only reopen if transmission rates in the community are under control.
“Gov. Lee called school reopening an ‘experiment.’ The lives of children, parents, teachers, support staff, and administrators are nothing to experiment with.”