NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) —More than 1,600 cases of COVID-19 were reported in students this week across the state of Tennessee. That’s a 69% increase from last week. With cases on the rise, and many districts taking action, teachers demanded action from the governor.
“Having clear direction from the Governor, and the Commissioner of Health, and the Commissioner of Education to help school superintendents, directors of schools, administrators make the best possible decisions for the health safety and well-being of Tennessee students is paramount. I think we’re lacking in that area, quite frankly,” said Tennessee Education Association President Beth Brown.
In a letter to Governor Bill Lee Tuesday, Brown stated the teacher’s union needed the state to provide more protections for educators and students.
“I’ve not had a single educator who looks at me and says ‘Beth I feel completely safe.’ I’ve had a lot of educators tell me what the state provided was poor quality and insufficient so I’ve heard a lot of concerns about the quality and the amount of PPE and cleaning supplies provided,” Brown told News 2.
The organization called to immediately implement safety measures like a mask mandate for all staff and students.
Governor Lee said nothing is off the table but he felt the current strategies were going well.
“We’ve had less than one-percent of our schools at any one time be closed or partially closed because of this. We have 700,000 out of one million kids in person in school and less than a tenth of a percent throughout most of that period of time of kids being absent from school because of cases of COVID. That’s a really good result,” Lee said during Tuesday’s COVID-19 press conference. “We want to continue that as long as we can do so. But our results have been good so far. We’ll continue to support districts in their efforts.”
The TEA said the state dashboard that breaks down COVID-19 cases in schools was incomplete and did not provide accurate data.
“The data that we’re seeing indicates that educators are infected at a higher rate than the general population in those areas and of course that is quite alarming,” said Brown. “He cited a very low percentage of schools that have had to close for quarantine or had to shift completely to remote learning. TEA believes that number is low because we can look at one district in East Tennessee right now that has shifted to all remote learning, they have 18 schools.”
Brown added that Tennessee has been facing an educator shortage for quite some time and they are noticing discouraging staffing trends during the pandemic.
“What we are seeing however are districts having difficulty filling vacancies. We’re also seeing districts having extreme difficulties in having substitutes teachers to cover classes, particularly when educators have been exposed or infected and have to quarantine or go home to recuperate from COVID-19,” Brown said.