Govenor Bill Lee has urged schools to remain closed until March 31st. We stanchly support the Governor in his efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus here in Tennessee by encouraging school districts to close through the end of the month to protect the health and wellbeing of Tennessee’s students, teachers, and entire communities across the state.
US Representative from Tennessee Mark Green said, “The COVID-19 outbreak is an international health crisis that will require an unprecedented response, and our Nation’s schools are facing extreme difficulties in the face of this pandemic, including sending their students home indefinitely. The gravity of the situation schools are facing navigating the COVID-19 pandemic creates an undue burden for preparing and administering statewide assessments.” To wholly protect educators and students from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tennessee General Assembly must take a few additional steps for public education:
• Attendance: The state must waive attendance requirements and excuse the chronic absenteeism of students. The legislature should also consider waivers for the instructional day requirement for districts.
• TNReady: Stop standardized testing for this academic year. They should also ask the Department of Education to immediately enter into negotiations to suspend the contract with our current testing vendor to save taxpayer dollars. That contract should be extended to fulfill our obligations. This means, as Representative Scott Cepicky has suggested, that the Commissioner of Education must request a waiver from the Federal Government on testing, which we have suggested and endorse. When schools resume, teachers should be free to teach, and re-teach if necessary, without the burden of testing.
• Hold Harmless: We must ensure that “no adverse action may be taken” against any student, teacher, school, or district based on results from the cancelation of state standardized tests. This also means that no assessment will impact students’ final grades. The lack of assessment results should not be used for any decisions related to hiring, firing, or not compensating teachers. We should also prohibit identifying a school as a “priority school” in Tennessee’s bottom 5 percent, the starting point for state intervention, although a district should be free to request any assistance for schools that self-identify and are in need.
Tennessee is a resilient state made up of incredible people with a generous spirit. We will defeat COVID-19, the coronavirus. However, each of us must remain vigilant in our efforts to combat and help prevent the spread of all respiratory viruses (Coronavirus or the flu) by maintaining high standards of hygiene and using common sense. We are confident that district leaders will continue to make the right decisions for their communities with the support of our Governor and Legislature.