State reviewing Tennessee Education Assoc. letter to Gov. Lee calling for more protections in classrooms

Education

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Tennessee continues to see increases in COVID-19 cases and deaths from COVID-19, Tennessee Education Association President Beth Brown called on Gov. Bill Lee to provide more protections for educators and students.

Brown spoke to WATE 6 On Your Side Wednesday shared more details about why she sent the letter, on behalf of the Tennessee Education Association.

“What we’re seeing is districts across the state are doing the best they can without any strong leadership or any guidance from the state,” said Brown.

As part of the letter, Brown issued nearly a dozen requests from TEA to Governor Lee. Those requests include:

  • mask mandate for all school staff and students
  • firm state guidance for infection thresholds for school closure
  • provide substantial emergency state school funding for high quality PPEs, updated HVAC and air quality systems, and additional cleaning services
  • enforce all CDC guidelines for school operations
  • fund extended educator sick leave for active cases or quarantines
  • issue guidance to prioritize assigning educators with underlying conditions to remote instruction
  • provide additional health benefits and coverage for staff who have been infected
  • provide hazardous duty pay for all staff directly involved with students

“Right now, when we are living in a pandemic, we have to do whatever it takes to put safety first,” said Brown.

On Wednesday, one day after Brown sent the letter, a spokesperson for Gov. Lee said in a statement to WATE 6 On Your Side, “The department received TEA’s letter yesterday and is in the process of reviewing their claims, which we have not been able to verify as accurate.”

Gov. Lee spoke Tuesday to media and shared his support for control at the district level statewide when it comes to COVID-19 health and safety decisions.

Brown said she wants to make it clear, the TEA supports in-person learning above all else. The concerns in the letter and requests for added safety measures, she says, are ways to get back to “normal” in the classroom.

Also included in that letter, concerns about the Tennessee Department of Education COVID dashboard and its accuracy.

The letter states: “Another state action that should be immediately taken is to either improve the data of the Department of Education statewide COVID dashboard or take down the website.”

In response, a spokesperson for the department shared this statement with WATE 6 On Your Side:

“The COVID-19 district information dashboard displays suppressed data that is self-reported by school districts to count the numbers of new COVID-19 positive cases each week among both students and staff, and uses strict privacy protocols. Educators and school and district leaders across the state are working hard to educate all students while following the proper health guidance, and we commend districts that have voluntarily reported data for the dashboard each week.”

Tennessee Department of Education spokesperson

The state COVID dashboard is based on district-reported data that, according to the website, is submitted 6 p.m. EST every Monday. Based on that information, the dashboard is then populated with updates weekly.

This process, a spokesperson noted in an email to 6 On Your Side Reporter Madisen Keavy, is not comparable to individual district COVID dashboards.

The department works on a weekly basis to protect individual privacy by suppressing data that could potentially identify students who are COVID-19 positive. The dashboard reports new cases each week and is not a cumulative total of cases, and has a disclaimer that clearly states, ‘TDOE cannot verify and makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the data presented’ because of a number of important considerations including: health reporting covering age bands that go beyond school aged children, suppressed data for privacy, and health data that also includes students and staff who are fully remote.

TN Department of Education spokesperson.

The President of the Knox County Education Association, Tanya Coats, said she hopes the state could eventually turn to Knox County Schools example to improve the state COVID dashboard.

The impacts, Coats said, go beyond the classroom when there are COVID-19 cases within a school, “it’s bus drivers, cafeteria workers, superintendents…”

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