TN Education Commissioner allows temporary virtual learning waivers for individual schools, classrooms as COVID cases spike

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Tennessee’s Education Commissioner says the state is taking a scalpel approach when it comes to the increase in COVID-19 cases in schools. This is in lieu of a COVID-19 guidance plan for all districts.

Because of the COVID surge, individual classrooms and schools in Tennessee can now request waivers that will allow for a temporary transition to virtual learning.

“This is what is within my authority for commissioner, waiver authority,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn.

The waivers will be considered on a case-by-case basis and granted only if necessary.

“This is not a rubber stamp process, this isn’t just because you submit a waiver it will be granted, it is up to the district to provide that information at the school or classroom level that shows there is not a reasonable way in which they can maintain in-person instruction,” said Schwinn.

The scalpel approach, focusing on individual schools instead of a “One size fits all” approach, is getting push back from some community members and organizations. They say the continuous learning plans school districts had last year during the pandemic should be brought back.

“We see the data, this COVID surge is horrible in Tennessee — the state must recognize that systems will have to close due to the Delta variant, not just individual schools,” said Dr. Danette Stoke, a 2nd-grade teacher and President of Shelby County UEA.

Education advocates say Governor Bill Lee should rescind Executive Order 84, which allows parents to opt their children out of school mask mandates and should return “control” back to local school districts.

“Teachers want kids to be at school learning, in person but that’s not possible without the ability to implement common-sense health and safety measures,” said Michele Sheriff, President of MNEA.

Prior to the new guidance, schools were forced to use instructional days if they shut down due to COVID.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Schwinn says there could be some wiggle room for schools that made the decision to close this week. “For closures that were announced for this week — if a district has made that decision, we will for this week entertain and review waiver requests, however, those waivers would be granted if remote instruction took place.”

Superintendents have waiver forms and will be allowed to submit them at any time. The forms are reviewed at 9 a.m., noon, and 3 p.m.

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