Back to School, Back to COVID

Alcoa City Schools returned to class last Wednesday and by Friday had announced their first positive case of COVID-19.

WBIR has more:

https://www.wbir.com/article/news/education/alcoa-city-schools-notifies-parents-of-covid-19-case-in-alcoa-middle-school/51-da956a97-1fda-4592-bde8-a584e1182df1

Meanwhile, Wilson County Schools has pushed back the first day of school from August 3rd to August 17th in order to have more time to plan for reopening in light of the pandemic.

Mystery Mail

The races for Nashville School Board are heating up and there appears to be a new player on the scene. A group called the Nashville Parents Committee is sending out mailers in support of Brian Hubert in the 3rd District race.

What’s interesting about the Nashville Parents Committee is that a google search for them yields no results. The group also hasn’t filed campaign finance disclosures with either the Davidson County Election Commission or the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance. There’s no Facebook page or Twitter feed for this committee of parents.

So, let’s take a look at these pro-Hubert mailers and see if we can find some clues.

Let’s take a look at the return address for “Nashville Parents Committee.”

Well… this is interesting. Look who has the same address:

Yes, that’s right. The Tennessee Charter School Center. That’s the group started by former Nashville Mayor and charter school backer Karl Dean. I wonder how many Nashville “parents” make up this committee. Also, the Tennessee Charter School Center is not registered as a PAC or disclosed (so far) as a donor to Hubert.

Will we ever know who is pumping tens of thousands of dollars into this race in order to move the ball for charter schools? Possibly not, as the mailer doesn’t explicitly say to “vote for” Hubert. It’s pretty damn clear that those behind the mailer want you to vote for Hubert, though.

Should dark money like this be a driving force in our elections? Did Hubert know about the mailer and coordinate with the pro-charter group? Why is a charter school group backing Hubert?

As voters head to the polls, these are important questions that Hubert and his financial backers should answer.

Rhetoric vs. Reality

Gov. Bill Lee recently denied a request from Williamson County Schools for a waiver of TNReady and other requirements for the upcoming school year in light of COVID-19.

In response, the President of education-focused group SCORE tweeted this:

Here’s the thing. If Gov. Lee were actually an advocate of strong and student-centered policy, he wouldn’t have cut improvements to teacher pay from his budget this year. He’d implement a statewide mask mandate. He wouldn’t push an unproven voucher scheme only to see it overturned in the courts. He would work to make progress on the $1.7 billion deficit in the state’s funding formula for schools.

But. He’s not. He hasn’t been. He won’t be. Tennessee schools and the students and teachers in them will continue to be left behind as a result of the aggressive privatization strategy Lee is pursuing.

Prognosis: Medium

Williamson County Schools Superintendent Jason Golden announced today his district will open on August 7th under the so-called “medium spread” protocol for COVID-19. This will be in place for at least the first two weeks.

The medium protocol means students in grades K-2 will report to school campuses while students in grades 3-12 will participate in remote learning. The move comes amid a growing number of cases in Williamson County and the middle Tennessee region.

Additionally, NewsChannel5’s Phil Williams today published data on the number of children ages 5-18 with cases of COVID-19. Six of the top ten counties in the state are in middle Tennessee, and Williamson is among them.

Here’s the breakdown:

And here’s the full story from Williams:

https://www.newschannel5.com/news/newschannel-5-investigates/7-572-school-age-children-diagnosed-with-covid-19-in-tennessee-new-data-shows

A New Board Member

Nashville education blogger TC Weber breaks down Metro Council’s appointment of a new member of Nashville School Board.

Last night Nashville’s Metro Council appointed a new school board member. Congratulations to Dr. Berthena Nabaa-McKinney as she takes over the seat vacated by the untimely death of former board chair Anna Shepherd. By all accounts, Nabaa-McKinney is a capable and exceptional replacement. Her presentation to the council yesterday was quite impressive and probably went a long way towards swaying council members to her side.

Unfortunately, last night’s proceedings were not completely free of political machinations. Education committee chair Dave Rosenberg cast his first ballot vote for Stephanie Bradford in an attempt to prevent candidate John Little from advancing. A move that was unsuccessful because McKinney and Little both tied with 11 votes while Bradford received 14. As a result, only the 4th candidate Steve Chauncey was prevented from advancing.

In the next round, Rosenberg switched his vote to Nabaa-McKinney, a move that successfully knocked Little out of contention. In the final round, the majority of Little’s votes transferred to Nabaa-McKinney, allowing her to secure the appointment by a vote of 25-14.

Mayor-to-be Council Member Bob Mendes missed the vote due to a family vacation. A curious decision seeing as he’s viewed as the city’s budget guru and MNPS takes up the largest portion of the budget. Mendes recently led the effort to raise property tax rates by 34%, in part to increase funding to the public school system. Surprisingly he was uninterested in influencing who would lead the district.

Dr. Berthena Nabaa-McKinney will hold the school board seat until November when voters will have the opportunity to vote for the candidate who will serve out the remainder of Shepherd’s term until 2022. Both Little and Bradford have announced their intention to campaign for the seat, and the assumption is that Nabaa-McKinney will as well. Convincing voters will present a decidedly different challenge as opposed to convincing council members.

TC also talks Florida Virtual School and more problems for Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn>

Bill Lee Says NO

Williamson County School Board member Rick Wimberly reports that Gov. Bill Lee has denied the district’s request to #CancelTNReady and to allow flexibility on the length of the school year and the hours in the school day.

The Governor has turned down Williamson’s County’s requests for waivers on state testing, school day length, and school year. I hope he’ll reconsider. #wcsb

Posted by Rick Wimberly Williamson Co School Board, District 9 on Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Here’s the story of the original request:

Lives on the Line

Tiffany Crow, a Shelby County teacher, parent, and COVID survivor, shared her story with TN Holler. Here’s some of what she had to say:

     As schools across the nation prepare for the upcoming school year (whether it be in person, hybrid, or completely virtual) teachers and families are writhing in agony with a sense of impending doom. One minute, we hear from superintendents and elected officials that we will be following data and “science” in efforts to plan for the upcoming year, and the next, we are being threatened with reduced funding and told that we will be going back to school buildings, in person, regardless of climbing case numbers, increasing death rates, and individuals being left with lifelong residual health issues from a virus that we still know so little about.

Teachers across the nation are preparing for the worst. We are finalizing wills, upping our disability insurance, and maxing out on life insurance benefits. Many teachers are already purchasing PPE, cleaning products, plexiglass dividers, and other band-aid solutions to the astronomical catastrophe that awaits upon school re-entry.

Read her entire letter>

Hundreds of Waivers

Chalkbeat is tracking requests from school districts to waive various state mandates for the upcoming school year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s more:

Wanting flexibility for a school year of uncertainty, more than half of Tennessee districts have asked for one-year waivers to state mandates ranging from duty-free lunch periods for teachers to new physical education requirements for students.

Hundreds of waiver requests have already been submitted by 79 school systems to the Tennessee Department of Education. More are expected in the coming months as schools reopen during the coronavirus pandemic.

The first round of requests will be considered on Friday by the state Board of Education. That vote will offer an early glimpse of how far Tennessee will go to help schools navigate COVID-19 at the expense of statewide policies aimed at improving the quality of public education.

It seems worth noting that of the requests on the agenda Friday, only one includes TNReady testing. The recommendation of State Board of Education staff is to deny that request. Some districts, like Williamson County, have appealed directly to Gov. Bill Lee for relief on the testing front.

Here’s the rest of the Chalkbeat story>

https://tn.chalkbeat.org/2020/7/21/21333088/tennessee-school-systems-seek-hundreds-of-waivers-from-state-mandates-amid-covid

Here’s a breakdown of requests and State Board staff recommendations:

https://www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/stateboardofeducation/documents/2020-sbe-meetings/july-24%2c-2020-sbe-meeting/7-24-20%20IV%20M%20COVID-19%20Additional%20LEA%20Waivers%20Attachment%20Public.pdf

The Future is Now

Nashville education blogger TC Weber came out strong this week with a compelling argument that the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing an evolution in public education. His central premise: schools aren’t going back to “normal” after the crisis passes. Here’s a nice summary from his post:

My main point here is that if a district is treating its reopening plan as simply crisis management, and failing to adequately consider future implications, they are leaving themselves at a serious disadvantage. The time for crisis management was back in the Spring, we have since moved into the realm of evolution, and participation is not an option. If LEAs don’t develop their own future policies and protocols, others – including parents – will do it for them. The world ain’t returning to a shape that we are familiar with and the only option is to embrace and try to positively impact the future.

Read the rest here:

Waive Bye to TNReady

Sumner County seems likely to join a growing list of Tennessee school districts asking the state to waive TNReady and teacher evaluation in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Board member Ted Wise posted his thoughts ahead of the vote tomorrow night:

In my twelve years on the school board, I have been guided by one statement, FOR THE CHILDREN!

As we face COVID together, it is important that our teachers and principals can focus on the needs of our children. Now is not the time to worry about high stakes tests or completing evaluations.

Our children deserve our best during these times. Our teachers and principals work tirelessly to help them. Let’s work together to take the burden off of our teachers and principals.

Our Board will vote on Tuesday to ask the state to waive high stakes testing for this school year.

I will vote on Tuesday night to do what I have always tried to do on our school board, support our children, our teachers, and our principals.

Will Gov. Lee and Commissioner Schwinn take action?