Photo: House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville)
Photo Credit: Speaker Cameron Sexton / Facebook
Published August 3, 2021
The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
House Speaker Cameron Sexton announced on Monday that he will call for a special session of the state legislature if school districts close their doors or force mask wearing during the latest wave of COVID-19.
Governor Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn joined Sexton in a news conference where Sexton stated that it would be “unacceptable” for Tennessee schools to shut down again.
Sexton says he will push legislation that would pave the way for a move to offer vouchers in the event that schools close, saying that remote learning had too much of a negative impact on student achievement over the past school year.
“I sure hope that any school system in this state after this data has been released does not shut their schools,” Sexton said. “If they do, I’m going to ask the governor for legislation to allow those parents in those school districts to take their children and take their money and with school choice go wherever they need to go.”
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He threatened similar action if school districts attempted to enforce mask mandates on students, even though this decision has been left primarily up to local districts. Schwinn has stated that masks should be the decision of the local school system, but the governor noted the importance of “parents’ choice” in the press conference.
Much of what Sexton discussed was aimed at those school districts in the state that remained closed for a majority of the year last year, offering pretty much only a virtual option. Shelby County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools were two of the largest districts to operate in that way.
While Superintendent Joris Ray of Memphis and Director of Schools Adrienne Battle of Nashville both stressed that their decisions were based on the safety and wellbeing of their students, both systems were criticized by Lee’s administration.
On Monday, Metro Nashville spokesperson Sean Braisted noted that planning for virtual or hybrid plans was not even an option for schools this year.
“The state of Tennessee authorized and required local school districts to plan for in-person, remote, or hybrid instruction last year through the (continuous learning plans) process,” Braisted said. “That authorization is not available to school districts for 2021-22 and our plans are to remain in-person for the remainder of the year.”
Sexton also mentioned that he has “been hearing that school systems plan to segregate students based on who’s vaccinated and unvaccinated.” No school district has publicized a plan of that type to date.
Preliminary results of student testing by the Tennessee Department of Education shows that larger deficits were found in students who were remote for last school year. District data has not yet been released.
“It will be interesting to dig down into the districts that we closed the whole year and see how negative they impacted their students,” Sexton said.
TNReady testing data for 2021 shows a huge drop in student achievement across the state with only 29% of students testing at or above grade level in English/Language Arts and only 25% testing at grade level in math.
Sexton said that some individuals believed that students would not experience such a decline through remote learning.
“There were some who would come to meet with us and said there wasn’t going to be any learning loss because they thought that a virtual education would work. I think the data today showed that that does not work,” he stated. “That you have huge loss.”
About the Author:
Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative
Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Directory for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com