Tennessee teachers urge Gov. Lee to issue statewide mask mandate for students & staff

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Education Association sent a letter to Gov. Bill Lee Monday calling on him to issue a statewide mask mandate for all school staff and students and put in place stricter guidelines for when schools should close as COVID-19 cases continue to increase across the state.

In the letter, TEA President Beth Brown expressed concerns about the number of COVID-19 cases among school staff compared to the communities they serve.

“The data indicate in-person instruction increases infection risk and that Tennessee educators will become ill at a far higher rate than the state’s general population,” Brown said.

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The TEA has called on the Lee administration to immediately:

• call for a mask mandate for all school staff and students;

• publish 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; and

• provide hazardous duty pay for all staff directly involved with students.

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The letter also called for immediate action to either improve the data of the Department of Education statewide COVID dashboard or take down the website.

“It is clear there are significant errors in the SDE dashboard; gross underreporting is apparent when the student infection numbers are cross-referenced with concurrent Department of Health cases for school-age children. The SDE should require accurate LEA reporting of student/staff COVID cases or stop publishing flawed datasets,” said Brown.

Brown went on to say the state should require every school system to maintain accurate local COVID dashboards for the remainder of the pandemic.

“The importance of in-person instruction to the academic and emotional wellbeing of students is undisputed; however, the demonstrably higher infection rate of Tennessee school staff cannot be ignored. There are actions your administration can and must take to reduce infections until a vaccine can be widely distributed,” Brown said.

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