Live from Music Row Wednesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Tennessee Director the American Federation for Children Shaka Mitchell to the show.
During the third hour, Mitchell weighed in on the current status of Metro government’s decision to keep kids out of school for the fall.
Leahy: We are joined on our newsmakers line by our good friend Shaka Mitchell who is the Tennessee state director for the American Federation for Children. Shaka welcome.
Mitchell: Hey good morning. Thanks for having me on again.
Leahy: The big issue now is kids going back to school.
Leahy: Tell us what the Tennessee branch of the American Federation for Children’s views is on that.
Mitchell: Sure. It’s on everybody’s mind right now. School is starting in Tennessee next week if you can believe that. Just got out of 100-degree heat and now school is starting. What we want to see are options. That’s really our mantra for families. Families should have options to make decisions that work best for their kids.
And that might be healthcare-related. It might have to do with digital versus in-person learning. There is any number of reasons that a parent might choose something different from their neighbor or different among their kids. So we think parents should have options and right now we are not seeing a lot of that.
Leahy: Particularly let’s draw our attention to Metro Nashville schools where apparently they are not offering an in-person option and they claim that they are going to have virtual schooling for 86,000 students. But I don’t think that logistically that’s working out so well. What are your thoughts on that?
Mitchell: Unfortunately, Michael I don’t have much that is kind to say about the Metro Nashville Public School District so-called plans to return to school. I think this would be kind of one of those bless their hearts moments. That’s the best you can say. As you mentioned this is the district with about 86,000 students that have decided to go 100 percent online.
So we can start there. I’ve got a rising kindergartner. Five-year-olds cannot spend a full school online. And we wouldn’t want them too. Just to start with that’s just bananas. And logistically as you mentioned there are many challenges there. The technology is not even ready. And we can talk more about that. It’s just a nightmare.
Leahy: I saw on Monday that Metro Nashville Education Association and a group called Tennessee for a Safe Return to Campus held a mock funeral around near the governor’s mansion here and their claim was basically dead teachers can’t teach dead children. That was their kind way of putting it. What’s your reaction to that?
Mitchell: I don’t know anyone who has said that they are encouraging an unsafe return to schools. I think it’s just melodramatic. Certainly with this sort of mock funeral. Unfortunately, I didn’t see these groups shedding any tears when reports said that 80 percent of kids couldn’t read on grade level. There were no tears about that. There is all this consternation.
Unfortunately, it overdramatizes the issue. And it’s a disservice to most teachers. Because I think most teachers would tell you, listen we want to teach and we want kids to be successful and online-only is not the best way that kids or teachers are going to be successful. I think it has to do a lot more with these organizations than it does these individual teachers.
Carmichael: This is Crom and I think you are exactly right. It’s the unions and the heads of the unions that think of this more as politics than what’s right for the students because if you took that statement, dead teachers can’t teach dead students or whatever they said. If you take that to its logical conclusion than every year when we have the flu season you’d have to shut down the schools for four months.
Mitchel: Yes. That’s right.
Carmichael: Then how would teachers and students get to school because we know that there is a risk that they’ll have a fatal accident in a vehicle on their way to school? It is just an asinine statement made by a bunch of what I call thugs.
And I do call the people who run the teachers unions all across the country, I call them thugs because that’s what they are. They do not care about the students. And to tell you the truth, they don’t even care about the classroom teachers. They want to increase the number of bureaucrats in education that gives them more union dues.
Leahy: Shaka, tell us what the agenda of the American Federation of Children and recommendations are here as you are the Tennessee state director here. What are your positive recommendations going forward here in this crisis?
Mitchell: One of the things we’ve talked about and your listeners have probably been paying a lot of attention to is we’ve been beating the drum on education savings accounts a lot over the past few years. That program is currently tied up in litigation. In fact those two go to the court of appeals next week.
We are hopeful that ultimately that program is going to be successful. That’s a program that would put power in the hands of parents to make decisions. Currently, that program is limited to Nashville and Memphis areas but I think there is an opportunity because of the COVID to say hey look, if this works in our most urban areas then we have to consider how we get some lists of parents who are in suburban areas and in rural areas as well. Consider this. You’ve got districts with no broadband that are going to try and go 100 percent virtual. That’s not going to work.
Leahy: It’s not going to happen.
Mitchell: Not going to happen. So we better get parents’ lists. We think school choice is a great way to do this. You would say free up teachers frankly and certifications to go get into tutoring. To have the smaller learning pod that you’re hearing a whole lot about. Let’s free up teachers to do that. Let’s free up organizations even to start more schools.
You’ve got a lot of churches that have great buildings and community centers that have great buildings and could do safe distance learning for small groups of kids and have teachers in there. I think there are just a lot of creative solutions that unfortunately they are not considering. The last thing I would say is if you are going to do virtual education make sure those laptops have chargers. That’s something that Nashville forgot too.
Leahy: They forgot the chargers.
Mitchell: So we’ve got 20,000 laptops without chargers. Come on. We’ve got to do better than that.
Leahy: That’s a Democrat administration at work in my view by not thinking all these things through. Metro Nashville schools will not have in-person schooling. Do we have any idea when they are planning on doing it or just saying not now? And we don’t know when.
Mitchell: The last that I heard is that Metro Nashville won’t do it through it Labor Day or about thereabouts. Honestly, I think you’re not going to see kids get back into the school in public schools. Because many of the private schools are starting.
They are figuring out a way to make this work. And obviously, we pray that all the students and the faculty and families stay safe. But they are trying to figure out a way to make this work to their credit. I don’t think public schools are not going to be in this semester. That’s my prediction.
Carmichael: The alternative to what the teachers union people are saying is that ignorance is OK because that’s what they are now promoting. More ignorance than they were getting before when they were doing a lousy job running the schools before. The unions’ position is not surprising but it is absolutely just sad.
Leahy: Shaka, we have 30 seconds. People can go to americanfederationforchildren.org. Is there anything else you want to add?
Mitchell: I would just say keep an eye on these school choice programs and ESA. You now its campaign time. Ask your legislators and where they stand. Are they pushing for these one size fits all school and education programs? Or are they willing to empower parents to do what is best for their kids?
Listen to the third hour here:
– – –
Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Shaka Mitchell” by Shaka Mitchell.