Photo Credit: Tennessee Department of Education
The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes] –
Tennessee has received almost 2.5 billion dollars in American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) funds after the plan for how to use the money was approved by the U.S. Department of Education.
In a press release last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced that every state education agency (SEA) received approval of their ARP ESSER plan before the end of December 2021.
The Department also issued a new resource called “2022 – Staying In School In-Person” for state and local leaders in which getting students vaccinated appears to be a top priority. In the handout, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona tells school leaders, “Ensure high levels of vaccination in your school community….”
The federal guidance reminds school leaders repeatedly that they should not only be monitoring vaccination rates of students and staff but facilitating vaccination clinics, pointing out that this is something for which ESSER funds can be used.
In order to be approved for ARP ESSER funds, every state was required to make a plan to show how they will support its LEAs implementing, “to the greatest extent practicable, prevention and mitigation policies in line with the most up-to-date guidance from the CDC.”
These mitigation strategies include universal and correct wearing of masks, physical distancing, handwashing, cleaning, contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine, and efforts to provide vaccinations to staff and students if eligible.
Under Mitigation Strategies for Tennessee’s SEA plan, Tennessee promises to “disseminate current CDC and Tennessee Department of Health guidance and recommendations” in all these areas.
Every LEA is required to update the “Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services Plan” at least every six months through September 30th, 2023 and must seek public input on the plan, taking such input into account. Resulting policies vary depending on the district.
To see what mitigation measures have been implemented in your local schools, select your district here and click on the link under ESSER ALLOCATIONS.
Then select Health & Safety Plan.
Wilson County is a good example of conservative principles shaping school policy for ESSER funds. Surveys were conducted for community stakeholders to weigh in on the plans for these funds. Participants were asked about mask use, physical distancing, and vaccine availability.
Results showed that 67% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that parent choice should dictate mask use with 89% of respondents either agreeing or strongly agreeing that students and staff should be allowed to wear masks if they chose. As a result, Wilson County’s district does not have a mask mandate. Facial coverings are optional for all campuses.
The survey also asked if vaccinations should be offered during the instructional day and if schools should host weekend vaccination events.
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Responses were overwhelmingly against offering vaccinations during the instructional day with 53% disagree/strongly disagree, 18% neutral, and 29% agree/strongly agree. Due to these findings, Wilson County will not offer vaccinations during the school day but may allow the local health department to use facilities to conduct weekend vaccination events.
Joseph Padilla who is running for school board as a Republican in Zone 4 for Wilson County encourages parents to make their voices heard. “Please fill out these surveys! Get your children involved by explaining and answering survey questions together. Let’s make sure the next spending plan reflects what residents deem important.”
About the Author: Paula Gomes is a Tennessee resident and reporter for The Tennessee Conservative. You can reach Paula at email@example.com.