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:

boy running in the hallway
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MicroVouchers

The pursuit of privatization never ends with Gov. Bill Lee. Remember those CARES Act funds the governor and his team were NOT spending? Well, it turns out they now have a plan for those funds – a reading initiative that includes a voucher scheme.

Here’s more from The Center Square:

The new initiative, Reading 360, will provide an array of supports to districts, teachers and families, including opt-in training and coaching in literacy instruction for teachers, regional networks focused on literacy and an online platform for video lessons for teachers and families at home.

The initiative also will fund more than 13,000 microgrants for literacy tutoring for students and families.

Who will provide this tutoring?

The likely answer: Private providers profiting from taxpayer funds intended to help schools address the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key supporters of Lee’s misguided literacy initiative that includes this voucher scheme are long-time public school antagonists Sen. Brian Kelsey and Rep. Mark White.

Not only has Lee failed our state on COVID-19, he’s also using the pandemic as an opportunity to direct dollars to privatizers.

More on Bill Lee, COVID-19, and the Privatization Pandemic:

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Turkey Farmer

Nashville education blogger TC Weber offers some insightful commentary on Gov. Bill Lee’s speech on the state’s ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

Here are some highlights:

What you missed remains unclear because the Governor managed to address a crisis without offering any clear direction. There were a lot of suggestions, and a few warnings, but no mandates. In essence, a request was entered, that if Tennesseans planned on any social gathering, perhaps they’d be kind enough to limit them to 10 people unless they were funerals, weddings, church services, or … not social events.

Nearly a third of Executive Order 70 is devoted to sporting events, with nary a mention about schools, bars, restaurants, or constructions sites – all of whom would welcome, and arguably require clearer guidance. Mind you, I’m not favoring one set of mandates over another, but if you are going to promise something of substance, offer something of substance. Hell, he quoted Churchill, that alone raises the bar. Per usual with Lee and his team, we are left to debate the quality of action as opposed to the actual policy. Something that has come to define the Lee administration.

The thing that I’m more fascinated with is, what happens behind the scenes. I’m assuming that there were several meetings held prior, to devise the strategy and wording of Lee’s speech. Wasn’t anybody struck by the inadequacies of this response? Or did everybody sign-on?

Did Blake Harris his Chief of Staff, read the speech and say, “Perfect. Way to thread the needle on Government and free will. People will love this.”

Did his Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn take a look at it and say, “Nicely done. Don’t offer any guidance on schools, nobody’s interested in that. We already put those rumors about closing schools to bed. This here speech is a shining example of leadership.”

It has long been my belief that the quality of leadership is revealed by the people a leader surrounds themselves with. Between several high profile resignations and current moves by Governor Lee, I don’t think anybody can put forth the argument that he’s surrounding himself with a high-quality team focused on the citizens of Tennessee. My father used to have a plaque on the wall that read, “You can’t fly with the  eagles if you surround yourself with turkeys.” Governor Lee seems to fancy himself as some kind of turkey farmer.

READ MORE from TC>

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Image of a Potential Cabinet Member in the Lee Administration

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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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#CancelBillLee

Center Square reports on how Gov. Bill Lee’s Administration continues to fail our public schools. This time, the news is about how Lee’s team has failed to expend millions of dollars in CARES Act funding at a time when Tennessee teachers are literally dying from COVID.

Here’s more:

More than six months after receiving more than $596 million in federal COVID-19 relief for education, entities in Tennessee have spent just over 43% of the funds, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) and Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE).

Under federal law, states must spend education-related COVID-19 relief within one year of the grant date by the U.S. Department of Education, or funds must be returned to the federal government. Tennessee funds were awarded by the USDOE in late May, so agencies have less than six months to spend the remaining 62 percent of funds before they are returned.

This is also noteworthy:

The federal database does not report how much of the $64 million in Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds awarded to the Tennessee Department of Education the state has spent, but state documents provided to The Center Square reveal the state’s plan for use of those funds, including $30 million earmarked for implementation of a literacy coaching program and literacy training for K-3 teachers statewide.

Let’s just be clear: Gov. Bill Lee cancelled a planned teacher pay increase this year fearing COVID-related economic concerns. Then, received millions in CARES money (Tennessee’s share for education was around $600 million). Lee did not offer teachers a bonus for teaching in a pandemic. He didn’t direct money to schools. His team is just sitting on the cash. Then, they put additional money toward a suspect literacy program.

Let me say this again: Tennessee teachers are dying because of failed leadership at the state level. District leaders look to Bill Lee who says it’s totally fine to operate without a mask mandate and that schools should be open — schools, by the way, are open, even if the buildings are closed. Lee is sitting by while teachers die and sitting on money that could help schools and kids.

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COVID Claiming Lives of Tennessee Teachers

A second Rutherford County teacher has died as a result of COVID-19. Siegel High teacher David Pickelsimer recently passed away, as noted by the Rutherford Education Association:

https://twitter.com/TheTNHoller/status/1338211588474626054?s=20

Earlier this year, another Rutherford County teacher, Susan Keener, also died as a result of the COVID-19 virus.

The Murfreesboro Holler is noting that concerned educators are expressing concerns.

With COVID cases across the state escalating at a rapid rate, it’s unclear why more direct action has not been taken on a statewide basis.

Of course, Gov. Bill Lee’s Administration has been running from the issue instead of taking it on directly:

If you know of a teacher who has died as a result of COVID-19, please let me know via email: andy@tnedreport.com

I’ll be happy to post a note about this teacher and any words in memory you’d like to post. Please let me know the school system in your email.

It would also be good to get a clear handle on how many teachers and families of teachers have been impacted by COVID. I want to honor these educators who gave their all for their students. Further, there’s a very real risk with this virus, and collecting information and data will help illuminate that risk.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

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Just Call Bill Lee

A new hotline was announced today to provide emotional support to teachers struggling in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Why are teachers struggling? Amanda Kail of MNEA has some ideas.

Here’s the full press release:

Today, the Tennessee Department of Education and the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS), in partnership with several statewide organizations, announced the COVID-19 Emotional Support Line is now available for all Tennessee educators. 

The emotional support line provides free and confidential support from specially trained volunteer mental health professionals to callers experiencing increased anxiety and stress due to the national pandemic. The COVID-19 Emotional Support Line is available to call at 888-642-7886 from 6 a.m.- 10 p.m. CT/ 7 a.m.- 11 p.m. ET daily. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about significant challenges, anxiety and stressors for many, including those doing the work of educating our kids,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “We are grateful to our partners at TDMHSAS for extending access to this resource to all Tennessee educators, who now can get critical supports from trained mental health professionals in a confidential setting.”    

Specially trained mental health professionals answer incoming calls from the line and provide emotional support through active listening, helping callers identify and address basic needs, and informing callers about tools for managing stress and strategies for self-care. 

In May, the COVID-19 Emotional Support Line was created by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, along with the Mental Health Active Response Team (MHART), the Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug, and other Addictions Services (TAADAS), National Association of Social Workers-TN Chapter (NASW-TN), for healthcare workers and first responders who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic response. 

“When we created this Emotional Support Line with our partners back in May, it was intended for those working on the front lines of the pandemic working in health care and as first responders. Due to the outpouring of support as well as capacity, we are grateful to be able to announce this expansion to offer needed support to educators across the state of Tennessee,” said TDMHSAS Commissioner Marie Williams, LCSW. 

“We at MHART are so thankful to be able to be a part of facilitating the expansion of this Emotional Support Line to all teachers and educators across the state of Tennessee. The fact that 5 statewide organizations have come together in the span of just a few weeks to support this expansion is a testament to the goodwill of Tennesseans and to the desperate need for a service like this for educators who have been struggling during this pandemic now more than ever. We are committed to being there for our teachers because they are committed to being there for our kids in one of the noblest and oldest professions. The future of our state depends on their success,” said T.J. Stone, Executive Coordinator, MHART. 

The COVID-19 Emotional Support Line does not offer mental health treatment and is not intended to replace mental health crisis or suicide prevention services. The TDMHSAS Statewide Crisis Line is available at 855-274-7471 or by texting “TN” to 741-741. 

Learn more about the COVID-19 Emotional Support Line here.  

Or, Teachers Can Just Call Bill Lee

After all, it is Gov. Bill Lee who allegedly leads our state government. A state government that is failing to adequately report data on teachers with COVID.

It is Lee who during the emergency COVID budget discussion completely eliminated a planned teacher pay raise even while declaring that teachers are essential workers.

It is Lee who insisted (and still insists) that we continue with state testing of kids even though those tests won’t be used in any so-called accountability measures.

It is Lee who continues to hire former legislators intent on privatizing public schools so he can pass a voucher scheme.

It’s Bill Lee who consistently demonstrates he’s not a fan or supporter of our public schools or their teachers. His actions are speaking. Loudly.

So, teachers, when you need some support, call Bill Lee.

Here’s that number:

615-741-2001

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

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