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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School’s Out for Sumner

Yet another Tennessee school district has announced a temporary closure due to COVID-19. Sumner County Schools will close from Sept. 7-10 (next week) in order to attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19. The move comes as the Lee Administration continues to insist that children should be in school and is failing to cooperate with districts seeking remote learning options. As with other districts closing due to COVID, stockpiled inclement weather days will be used. To be clear: There will be no in-person instruction and no online/remote learning. Schools are simply closed.

The move also comes as health officials report that Tennessee has the highest rate of COVID infections in children in the nation:

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Lee Administration Faces Lawsuit, Federal Investigation Over Botched COVID Response

The Administration of Gov. Bill Lee has come under fire in recent days as the COVID-19 crisis is cancelling schools in some districts.

The latest bad news for Lee comes from an announcement today that the U.S. Department of Education is launching an investigation into state policies in five states (including Tennessee) that have sought to ban local mask mandates in schools.

Here’s more from U.S. News:

The Biden administration opened investigations into five states over whether their bans on mask mandates discriminate against students with disabilities – a move that marks the most aggressive action by the Education Department to date in its efforts to support local school leaders trying to return students to school safely amid a surging pandemic.

“The Department has heard from parents from across the country – particularly parents of students with disabilities and with underlying medical conditions – about how state bans on universal indoor masking are putting their children at risk and preventing them from accessing in-person learning equally,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Monday in a statement. “It’s simply unacceptable that state leaders are putting politics over the health and education of the students they took an oath to serve.”

Meanwhile, families of medically vulnerable children in the Shelby County School district are suing the Lee Administration claiming the opt-out policy regarding masks puts their children at risk. WREG has more:

The lawsuit alleges Lee’s order forces parents with vulnerable children to decide between an education or their health and safety. It’s a position that Timmons believes is not right.

“When a parent of a kid that has COVID says ‘My kid doesn’t have to wear a mask,’ they’re not making a decision on their child health. They’re making a decision about other people children’s health and that affects children with disabilities,” Timmons said.

Research from John Hopkins University shows that Tennessee ranks sixth in the country in new cases per capita and that one-third of COVID cases in state are children.

This week, Shelby County also filed a suit against the governor.

And, Phil Williams of NewsChannel5 is reporting that last week was the worst of the pandemic in terms of new infections for school-aged children:

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COVID Cancels Class

A growing number of Tennessee school districts are cancelling classes in some or all schools this coming week.

Here’s more:

The moves come even as Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn has called a press conference for Monday (8/30) to discuss options for districts in terms of COVID mitigation and remote learning.

If your district or school is closed or planning to close because of COVID, please email me: andy@tnedreport.com

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COVID Closures

COVID-19 is once again closing schools in Tennessee. This time, districts are not able to shift entirely to remote learning – though Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn offered some limited guidance regarding shifting to remote learning on a school-by-school basis.

Fox 17 in Nashville has the story of Wilson County Schools closing all of next week and re-opening after Labor Day:

The Wilson County School District announced on Friday schools will be closed all of next week due to “the continued surge in recent positive COVID-19 cases and quarantines,” the district stated on Twitter.

The county plans to return on September 7. While closed, buildings and buses will be cleaned. The county noted there will not be remote learning and “therefore there will be no teaching and learning expectations during this time.”

The move comes just after Williamson County Schools asked the state to allow remote learning and also instituted a mask mandate across all district schools. Previously, the mandate only applied in elementary schools.

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Remote Resolution

In the wake of COVID-19 wreaking havoc with school schedules, cancelling football games, and closing down at least one Williamson County School (Fairview Middle), the Williamson County School Board has called a special meeting for tonight to ask Gov. Bill Lee (a Williamson County resident) to include school operations in his emergency order so that remote instruction can be an option for virus mitigation.

Here’s a tweet from Williamson Strong with the resolution:

Here are some video messages from advocates of mitigation strategies that include a mask mandate:

Dr. Meredith Duke, a Vanderbilt Surgeon and mother of children in Williamson County Schools pleaded, “I attended the last board meeting almost two weeks ago and I was appalled at the behavior of the crowd and the lack of decorum… One of the mask mandate supporters was an infectious disease expert from Vanderbilt. I repeat, you had an infectious disease expert here, encouraging a mask mandate. She pleaded for our children’s safety and she adamantly supported a universal mask mandate. 

“We were not heard and that has brought us to today. COVID is spreading in a completely uncontrolled fashion. Our children are sick, our teachers are sick, and our families are sick. In two weeks, both of my sons have had COVID exposures. I’m already canceling necessary surgeries because we don’t have beds to care for our patients. We don’t have beds, where our hospitals are literally at a breaking point. We, our community, needs to do something to make this stop. It’s imperative that you pass and enforce a universal mask mandate for all of our schools. We need to improve contact tracing quarantine protocols. We don’t have an adequate vaccine update. We are not mitigating anything. Your job is to provide a safe environment for children to learn. They are not safe. Please do your job. Stand up to the anti mask bullies and listen to the experts.”

Watch Dr. Duke’s full video statement here

Todd Barton, a arent of two children in Williamson County Schools called on the school board to follow CDC and American Academy of Pediatric guidelines, “The CDC, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics, thousands of local doctors and pediatricians, and our area hospitals, including Williamson County Medical Center have been very clear. And what they are recommending for schools during this pandemic masks, contact tracing, distancing limits to gatherings and quarantines. And all we’ve seen so far is a very limited mask requirement in elementary schools. And what we’re also seeing is the very predictable result of that. At my daughter’s school, nearly half the students are out, along with about a third of teachers and staff as well as a number of bus drivers. Students are in classrooms with substitutes, or sometimes staff who have no educational training. And when school closes, because, inexplicably, we’re prevented from using remote learning, they receive no instruction whatsoever at home. I don’t understand this. I know that there are some very loud voices involved. I know that there’s politics involved. But I’m begging you to rise above that, and to see to the health and safety of the students, teachers and staff staff by following the recommendations given to you by the medical professionals, as well as instituting a remote learning platform that was proven very successful last year to ensure continuity of learning.”

Watch Todd’s full video statement here

Kristie Harris, a Registered Nurse, small business owner, and mom of children who contracted COVID-19 from their Williamson County school shared that she has been so careful to not expose herself or her four children to COVID in the past year and a half. As a single mother who has asthma, she waited until she was vaccinated to put her children back in in-person school, because more than anything, she didn’t want to leave them as orphans. She shared that, “the current opt out system is what put my kids at risk. We were safe until we returned to school, and just 11 days to the year they are COVID positive. What’s even crazier is according to the Williamson County’s current exposure and quarantine rules, I could send my 13 year old to school right now, I could send him to school, not only could I send him, but I could send him unmasked to school because he doesn’t have any symptoms. And even though his brothers are both sick and COVID positive, there’s no rule against sending your kids to school with other kids at home who are positive. It’s absolutely insane. Of course, as a responsible parent and member of our community, I would never do that. But it does beg the question, how many are? The current exposure and quarantine policy is absolutely absurd. It’s dangerous, and it’s what’s continuing this path that we are on.” She ended saying, “I’m urging you to protect our kids.”

Watch Kristie’s Statement here

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Williamson County Struggles with Teacher Pay

Tori Keafer in the Williamson Herald explains the struggle Williamson County Schools faces with paying teachers enough to live in the county where they are being asked to teach.

Currently, the base salary for teachers in WCS is $40,150. In 2019, the Williamson County Board of Commissioners passed a 7-cent property tax increase to bump the base pay from $37,500 to the current rate.

Housing Struggle

“I think we all agree it’s not enough. We need to continue to make that a focus,” Superintendent Jason Golden said. “After we approved that, some of our neighbors voted for larger increases, so it is a constant battle. And I will tell you also, we’ve talked about the cost of living. Housing is an issue.”

District 9 board member Rick Wimberly pointed out the average home value in Williamson County, using data through May according to Zillow, was just over $595,000. With a $40,000 salary, a teacher would hardly have enough for home payments, he said, and living in an average apartment wouldn’t be that much better either.

“You’re still not scraping by,” he said. “We’ve got to fix that, and we’re not going to fix it tonight. … I just hope this is something, like Eric and like Jason have said, that we can take on as a high priority.”

Wimberly added:

“We are so far off — so far off — that it poses challenges now, but it’s just going to get worse and worse,” he said. “Perhaps it’s after the time I’m gone, but we’re going to have to face it as a community. This is a problem for us. And yeah, you can take my numbers and do whatever you want to with them, but I don’t think you’re going to convince me that we … pay sufficient[ly] to help people where they can have a good lifestyle in Williamson County or even commut[ing] from out of the county.”

The note on the battle over teacher pay in Williamson County comes after a similar story and fight in Maury County.

A recent story on teacher pay across the state also reveals that the state is not doing much to help the situation:

The Tennessee State Board of Education has set the state’s minimum teacher salary at $38,000 for the upcoming school year. That’s $49 more than the current average minimum salary, according to a story in Chalkbeat.

While the overall boost in minimum teacher pay is certainly welcome news, what’s interesting is to examine the pace of change in teacher pay over time.

As the Chalkbeat piece notes, the average teacher pay in Tennessee overall is $51,349.

Here’s why that’s so fascinating. Back in 2014, the state’s BEP Review Committee issued a report calling on the state to fund teacher salaries by way of the BEP at a level equivalent to the actual state average salary. That average? $50,116. So, the average now is just a bit over $1200 more than the average in 2014. In other words, teacher pay in Tennessee is creeping up at a snail’s pace. And, of course, teacher pay in our state is still below the Southeastern average (about $2000 below).

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Wit, Wisdom, and Williamson County

If you’re looking for the hotbed of leftist indoctrination in Tennessee, you should look no further than Williamson County, the wealthiest in the state, located just south of Nashville.

I mean, just look at the Williamson County Schools embracing diversity and also promoting seahorse porn.

It’s very troubling.

Williamson Strong has a take on the latest events there:

As a reminder, the national Moms for Liberty organization is making a full court press here in Williamson County against….elementary school books, which they allege are teaching Critical Race Theory You can watch segments on their own YouTube channel for a full deep dive on their Critical Race Theory 101 event that was held a few weeks ago if you have a few hours to kill.

The group’s members and their social media supporters are constantly decrying the supposed indoctrination that’s taking place through the new reading curriculum being used in WCS. Yet curiously, most of the 30 public commenters they had speak out against the Wit & Wisdom curriculum at Monday night’s meeting focused on age appropriateness of the content, not CRT – they even had props and signs to accompany and illustrate many of the examples.

But wait, we haven’t yet mentioned the seahorses because honestly it deserves its own section.

Moms for Liberty has a real issue with a 1st grade book on seahorses, which they call “a soft introduction to Sex Ed” and “switched gender roles”.

We’re not making this up or even slightly exaggerating or taking this out of context. Please watch this part for yourself because it is a very worrisome book.

Read the whole post to get a view of what’s happening in Williamson County.

All the Way Back to 2014

Those of you who have been around for a bit or who are regular readers may remember all the way back to 2014 when Williamson County Schools was labeled a hotbed of leftist indoctrination because of Common Core.

A group of candidates who strongly opposed Common Core were supported by the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity and won a majority on the School Board.

Some of these individuals have expressed support for vouchers and for bringing charter schools to Williamson County. Those are two primary goals of AFP.

Alvey on Education offers a view of what’s happening from a Williamson County parent’s perspective. A recent post there discusses a pending resolution at the School Board level that would denounce Common Core. Of course, it seems increasingly likely that Common Core will die an early death in Tennessee. But, the post offers some insight into what is happening now in one of the best school systems in Tennessee.

It seems that every few years, some outside groups descend on Williamson County and insert some chaos into the regular functioning of the school system. What’s somewhat amusing about this is that in 2014, the fuss was all about Common Core – a curriculum backed by then-Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and the GOP General Assembly. Now, the problem is being caused by Wit and Wisdom, a curriculum backed by Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn. Yes, that very same Penny Schwinn who was appointed by Gov. Bill Lee – you know, the Bill Lee from Williamson County who is pretty conservative, just ask him.

Yes, the very same Bill Lee who signed into law a bill banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory.

But wait, Critical Race Theory is bad but Critical Race Theory is in Wit and Wisdom but Bill Lee is essentially forcing Wit and Wisdom on all school districts.

It’s almost like no one at the TN DOE or in the Gov’s office is paying that much attention?

I wonder how Moms for Liberty feels about Bill Lee who signs bills that ban Critical Race Theory and also supports efforts to enshrine Critical Race Theory in the curriculum? Or, maybe Lee just likes the seahorse porn?

It’s all very confusing.

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

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Williamson County Continues Wrestling with Diversity, Inclusion

As tensions heat up in Williamson County over the process of instilling principles of diversity and inclusion in the system’s schools, one parent group continues to highlight the work in the community being done on the issue.

Here’s more from One WillCo regarding some of what happened at this week’s school board meeting:

Last week, One WillCo joined with five other local organizations with a joint statement supporting Superintendent Jason Golden, and Williamson County School’s diversity efforts with “Fostering Healthy Solutions.” Tonight at the school board meeting several parents involved with One WillCo shared their experiences and thoughts during public comment. 

Alanna Truss, a clinical psychologist and parent of a Woodland Middle School and Kenrose Elementary School student, spoke in support of “Fostering Healthy Solutions” and Superintendent Golden. “Recent efforts by some individuals to push back against DEI efforts have included the claim that children are being traumatized by exposure to factual representations of history. In my years serving this community, I have yet to see a child in my practice due to being traumatized by our county’s curriculum choices. I have however, seen several students experiencing trauma due to being discriminated against and bullied within our schools, due to race, religion, gender and sexuality. As a parent and psychologist I am grateful for the ongoing efforts of our school board to make our schools a place where all students feel seen, respected, and safe.”

Trinh Le in District 12 thanked Jason Golden and the School Board for following science to keep students safe this year. She also shared that just this year at school her daughters have had anti-Asian slurs said to them, have heard other students telling Hispanic students to go back to where they came from, and heard anti-gay insults repeatedly shouted in the halls, and that this is why she supports a curriculum that teaches student about the true history of our country. “I have heard people say that teaching these parts of our history is racist or traumatic. But what’s traumatic is Black, Latino, Asian, and LGBTQ kids going to schools where they face discrimination and don’t feel safe.” 

Amie Cooke, a mom of 3 elementary school kids in District 5, shared that she was led by Jesus last year to start a group called “Be The Bridge” to connect with friends of color in her community, and in part to learn about the discrimination they have experienced. From her conversations she has learned about some terrible acts of discrimination their kids have experienced starting as early as Kindergarten. Due to the curriculum controversy she has been hearing she asked her daughter, who just finished second grade, what she remembered about Ruby Bridges, and her daughter told her, “People didn’t like Ruby because of her skin color, but her teacher stood up for her and mommy, I would have stood up for her too.” Mrs. Cooke continued by calling the board to continue to equip and support and stand up for all of the children of WCS.  

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