Unfazed

Gov. Bill Lee responded to three losses in court last week by doubling down on the executive order that landed him in court and allows parents to opt-out of local school district mask mandates.

Of course, as a result of the court orders, the opt-out is essentially meaningless in the districts where the suits originated. Still, Lee is persisting in renewing an executive order he has previously admitted his administration has no intention of enforcing.

Chalkbeat has more on the renewal:

Gov. Bill Lee said Thursday he’ll extend his executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of following local school mask mandates that protect them against the coronavirus.

The 30-day extension will come despite rulings by three federal judges blocking his Aug. 16 executive order, which is due to expire on Oct. 5.

The judges in Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville sided with some parents who said the governor’s order violates federal law by creating unsafe learning environments for students with disabilities who are more at risk of severe illness from COVID.

The move by Lee comes even as a new CDC report indicates that Tennessee has lost the most school days of any state due to closures related to COVID-19.

The Tennessean has more:

Unsurprising to many students and parents, Tennessee has seen the most COVID-related school closures so far this school year according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published. 

From Aug. 2 to Sept. 17, Tennessee saw more than 400 schools close for at least one day, according to the study released last week.

The New York Times reports that Lee’s continued non-response to COVID-19 is the result of a desire to avoid a challenge from the extreme right of his party, citing GOP state Senator and Dr. Richard Briggs from Knoxville:

“The governor [Bill Lee] understands completely the seriousness of the problem, and I think that hard decisions are being tempered by political realities, which is that he has an election next year,” and “Dr. Briggs described the surge of cases in Tennessee as a “completely self-inflicted crisis.”

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Mask Madness in Knox County

After a federal judge on Friday ruled that Knox County Schools must make masks mandatory, a group of parents began organizing a protest – suggesting they would send their kids to school without masks and then refuse to pick them up. Then, the planned protests escalated to using cars to block entrances to schools. Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs tweeted in favor of resisting the judge’s order. Now, though, the school system has closed for tomorrow as the district prepares to both enforce the judge’s ruling and deal with the protesting parents. The Knox County School Board had previously refused to issue the type of mandatory mask order that is in effect in a number of school districts across the state.

Here’s more on the story in a series of tweets from various players:

https://twitter.com/KnoxvilleHoller/status/1441864236335091716?s=20

Looks like someone missed the Intro. to U.S. Constitution class:

Rep. Gloria Johnson reports on the protest escalating:

The end result: Schools are closed in Knox County tomorrow. Ostensibly, they will reopen Tuesday. However, it is not yet clear how the schools will go about enforcing the mandate and keeping kids safe in light of the escalating rhetoric around protesting the mandate.

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Mask Mandate Mandatory

A federal judge has ordered Knox County Schools to mandate masks with no opt-out in order to protect student safety. The move follows a recent order by a federal judge that Shelby County Schools may enforce a mask mandate with no opt-out in defiance of Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order requiring an opt-out option.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel has more:

Knox County Schools must require all staff and students to wear masks in schools while a lawsuit by families of disabled children plays out, a federal judge ruled Friday. The ruling takes effect immediately. 

U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer also blocked Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order allowing Knox County Schools parents to opt out of the mask mandate. The judge’s ruling only applies to the school district.

The governor’s executive order was already set to expire Oct. 5. Jessica Salonus, a lawyer representing the four families who are suing the Knox County Board of Education and the governor, said that even if Lee extends his opt-out order, it still won’t apply in Knox County.

A similar lawsuit is now pending in Williamson County.

The rulings in Shelby and Knox counties mean that Lee’s opt-out order is essentially a moot point in two of the state’s four largest school districts.

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8 is Enough?

The Tennessee Lookout reports on the educators across the state who have died so far this school year from COVID-19. The count at the time of publication was 8, though getting an exact number is difficult because there is no central source keeping track of educator deaths related to the pandemic.

More:

At least eight Tennessee public school employees – three elementary school teachers, one pre-k assistant, a cafeteria worker, a bus driver and two high school teachers – have died since the school year began after contracting COVID-19. The total is an imperfect tally of a grim statistic that no one government agency or private entity is currently monitoring in a systematic way.

The educator deaths come as Gov. Bill Lee continues to attempt to stop mask mandates in local school districts. It’s also noteworthy that a number of districts around the state have closed recently in order to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Here’s how Tennessee Lookout went about determining the numbers so far:

The eight deaths were confirmed through family members, school staff, pastors, media reports and online obituaries. In each instance, the school employees had been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the days or weeks prior to their deaths, and in each case there is no definitive answer on where someone contracted the virus. Individual schools cited privacy rules in declining to comment about the causes of death among their staff members.

The story is a grim tale in a year where state policy expressly prevents districts from using remote learning options in order to mitigate COVID spread. Not only has Gov. Lee taken action to attempt to stop mask mandates, but he also visits schools without wearing a mask because, in his words, he’s “vaccinated” and “feels safe.” Of course regardless of vaccination status, it is possible to transmit the COVID-19 virus.

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COVID Crisis in TN Classrooms

As school systems close amid COVID-19 spikes, some districts are also seeing teachers leave the profession.

WBIR in Knoxville has video of a local teacher who is giving up her job due to concerns over the spread of COVID and lack of action by the district to mitigate spread.

https://twitter.com/TheTNHoller/status/1435369915343687680?s=20

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Why Not Waivers

As entire school districts close around the state due to the COVID-19 crisis, Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn has granted limited waiver authority to allow a shift to remote learning. Why, then, are districts closing without even asking for a waiver?

WPLN in Nashville explains:

As of Wednesday afternoon, 13 districts have applied to temporarily shift some schools online and 8 were approved. But other school systems have closed without pursuing the state waiver for virtual learning.

“It does not apply for an entire district,” said Jeff Luttrell, the superintendent of Wilson County Schools, which has been shutdown all this week.

“And our numbers determined to us that we needed to shut down our district for a few days, to see if we could kind of stop the spread and allow some people to get healthy,” he added.

The waiver issue is the latest in a series of ineffective state policies as Tennessee’s leadership continues to mishandle COVID-19. Now, indicators suggest Tennessee is the number one state in the nation for pediatric COVID-19 cases.

Tennessee also leads the nation in overall cases per population:

Meanwhile, Gov. Lee has said he has no plans to change the state’s COVID mitigation strategy.

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The Best in the World

Well, Gov. Bill Lee has finally done it. Tennessee is the best. Not just the best in the South. Not just the best in the United States. Tennessee is the best in the whole WORLD!

Yes, you read that right. A guy who previously ran a mildly successful HVAC company has now led his state to become the BEST in the whole world at something.

What is it, you might be asking. I mean, this is an education blog, so maybe it has to do with schools.

It does, sort of .

Tennessee is number one in the world in the number of new COVID cases per population.

Here’s a tweet (and maps/graph to follow):

Here’s the thing: Gov. Lee refuses to lead on this issue. He won’t talk mask mandate. He won’t close schools to in-person instruction statewide. Hell, he won’t even properly deploy CARES Act funding.

Teachers across the state are dying of COVID and Lee’s best idea is to make sure kids take EOC tests.

Oh, and this is interesting — Lee’s lack of leadership means we also lead in another category – 9 of the top 20 cities where COVID is spreading the fastest are in Tennessee.

Oh, and if you’re a parent wondering what to do about childcare in case your kid’s school is closed into 2021? Yeah, Bill Lee doesn’t give a damn about that, either:

I keep trying to think of an example of a Governor in our country who has failed more spectacularly than Bill Lee. But, he’s basically cornered the market on governmental ineptitude.

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Are You Ready for Some Football?

Gov. Bill Lee certainly is. He signed an executive order today allowing contact sports like football to resume when school does.

He also says schools should reopen for in-person learning except in the most “extreme” circumstances.

No word yet on what the acceptable level of student or teacher COVID-19 cases is… or how many have to be sick (or even die) before the situation is labeled extreme by Gov. Lee.

And then there’s this news:

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.