Wilson County Parents, Doctors Call for Mask Mandate Ahead of School Board Meeting

As the Wilson County School Board prepares to meet tonight and discuss COVID-19 mitigation strategies, a group of parents, doctors, and concerned citizens is calling on the Board to adopt a universal mask mandate. The call for a mandate comes in the wake of a surge of COVID cases in Wilson County and recent school closures in the district as a result of COVID spread.

Wilson County students returned to the classroom after a 10-day break during which time there was no online learning available, interrupting students’ education at the beginning of the year.

Right now, in Wilson County, at least 1 in 5 people tested are infected with COVID.  Over the past 14 days, 579 students have tested positive for COVID, and thousands more have had to quarantine.

“Our children want to be in school,” said Laura Maben, a Wilson County parent and board certified family nurse practitioner.  “My child wants to be with friends.”

Ms. Maben, who also provides health care as an emergency room nurse, continued, “I am asking the Wilson County School Board to  protect the students they are charged to care for!  Otherwise, parents will be left to deal with this pandemic on their own as schools open and close, children are left without virtual learning support, and parents are forced to juggle work schedules or miss work entirely.”

Tennessee has led the nation in daily new positive cases per 100,000, surpassing numbers not even seen during the highest points of the pandemic.

Caroline Cooper Huddleston, also a Wilson County parent of an elementary school student, added, “Around the world, people are looking at us, the Volunteer State, where we pride ourselves on caring for one another, and asking ‘how on earth did this happen?’”

Ms. Huddleston also leads a parent group, Wilson County Parents for Truth.  “In Tennessee, school districts have had to contend with constantly changing and obfuscated guidance from Gov. Bill Lee and the Departments of Health and Education,” she said..  “They have been left to interpret changing signals veiled behind politically motivated statements.  I do not envy the position school districts in our state are in.“However, for the Wilson County school board to use the lack of guidance as an excuse for not strengthening virus mitigation policies is simply unacceptable,”  Ms. Huddleston concluded.

Dr. Amy Gordon Bono, MD, MPH, a primary care physician, said, “All children deserve to be safe in school, no exceptions.  We know how to do this.  As a trained healthcare provider, I, along with 6,300 other colleagues across the state, strongly oppose Governor Lee’s Executive Order 84 allowing parents to opt-out of masking for their students. Scientific evidence demonstrates that masks can decrease the spread of COVID-19. Scientific evidence demonstrates that children can be infected with COVID-19 and that children can spread the infection to adults.

“I strongly urge the Wilson County School Board to put children’s safety and wellbeing first,” continued Dr. Bono.   “If Governor Lee will not step up and lead in this crisis by rescinding his Executive Order, then I am asking the Wilson County School Board to follow the lead of other school districts in Tennessee who have defied the Governor’s order in order to protect the kids they are charged to care for. Will you stand with our children and children’s hosptials like St. Jude and the thousands of health professionals telling you what you need to do to keep all kids safe in school, no exceptions? Or will you continue to stand against us and put children and their families in harms way?”

Ms. Maben added, “I understand and empathize with the desire to ’get back to normal.’ But, our best chance at doing that, particularly with our youngest children who can’t yet be vaccinated, is universal masking to decrease the spread of infection, protect the health and safety of our children and our community, and keep our schools open safely.” 

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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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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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Physicians Urge Schools to Maintain Mask Mandates, Protect Kids

A group of Tennessee physicians this week responded to Gov. Bill Lee urging local school districts to drop mask mandates.

Here’s more from a press release:

“Mask requirements for our classrooms keep COVID out so our kids can stay in school, parents at work and most importantly, protect vulnerable children who do not have the option to get vaccinated yet,” said Dr. Amy Gordon Bono, an internal medicine/primary care physician in Nashville, who also holds a Masters in Public Health.  “And we know it works: counties without mask requirements have seen more COVID spread, leading to more kids getting sick, parents and kids having to quarantine, making it harder on local businesses and families.”

Dr. Sara Cross, an Associate Professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases at the UT College of Medicine in Memphis, who also served on the Governor’s Coronavirus Task Force,  is concerned. 

 “The Governor’s announcement urging school districts to drop their mask requirements is premature, reckless, and frankly confusing to me as an infectious disease physician and mother.  This announcement completely contradicts the Centers for Disease Control’s most recent updated recommendations from just 3 days ago. All children should feel safe at school. It is the community’s and government’s responsibility to ensure this safe environment.  Children with special healthcare needs are at increased risk of infection from SARS-Cov-2. Rarely, a healthy child can develop serious infection or suffer grave consequences from COVID-19. The CDC recommends continued use of masks and social distancing in schools to keep our young unvaccinated population safe and healthy.  I hope that Governor Lee rethinks his hasty announcement.”

Dr. Diana Sepehri-Harvey, a family medicine physician  in Franklin who also holds a Masters in Public Health, responded,

 “Every time I think Governor Lee has shown all that he can for me to not trust him as a leader, he breaks his own record!  Our children under the age of 12, who do not have a choice to be vaccinated at this time, require all of us to remain vigilant to keep them safe.  Simply put, this means we get vaccinated and mask up for them, and kids continue to mask until they are eligible for vaccines.  As a physician on the frontlines, and as a mother of young kids, I am appalled by Governor Lee’s message today!”

“Masks and vaccines work together to help suppress COVID infections in our community,” continued Dr. Bono “Doing everything we can to keep the school environment safe from COVID infection helps make that environment safer, more supportive, and more stable for our children, teachers, and staff.  Masks for unvaccinated individuals, including children, are essential.”

Dr. Cross concluded: 

 “We should come together, across the differences used to divide us and reject the politicization of science and health that led to so many avoidable school and business closures and prolonged this crisis in Tennessee in the first place. Don’t we have a responsibility to protect vulnerable children who don’t have the vaccine option yet? That’s what mask requirements are for.”

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Always on the Attack

Sen. Brian Kelsey of Shelby County took some time today to attack the Shelby County Schools and get in a jab at the teachers union. He never misses a chance to attack public schools or the educators in them.

Here’s the video:

This is the same guy who sent out a Christmas card crowing about his legal work to voucherize public schools.

This is also the same Brian Kelsey who led efforts to eliminate the Hall Income Tax and $200 million a year in revenue for the state. Then, the issue was what to do with repeated years of surplus revenue. Kelsey’s answer was NOT to invest it in schools, but instead to create a tax giveaway for investors.

Brian Kelsey does not and has not supported our state’s public schools. Now, he’s using his position as chair of the Senate Education Committee to attack public school teachers. In other Kelsey news, he’s the lead sponsor of legislation that would undermine the ability of working Tennesseans to join a union.

MORE ON KELSEY:

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