Child Well-Being Check Initiative Withdrawn After Uproar in Tennessee

by Vivian Jones


The Tennessee Department of Education has withdrawn a $1 million initiative to conduct well-being checks for all children in Tennessee from birth to age 18 after the program sparked uproar this week, with critics calling it a big-brother government overreach.

Gov. Bill Lee and Education Commissioner Dr. Penny Schwinn released the Child Wellbeing Check Toolkit during a news conference Tuesday. As originally published, the initiative recommended well-being checks for all children in the state to verify well-being as school closures have left gaps for nutrition, health, and abuse reporting services amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Guidelines for the initiative were a collaborative effort of the 38-member Child Wellbeing Task Force, created by Lee in June in response to the pandemic.

According to original guidelines, a well-being check could include an email, phone call or a home visit from a well-being liaison. Well-being liaisons would need a parent’s permission to speak with a child, and if a parent refused, the refusal would be noted in a database. Local education agencies would implement the initiative and report aggregated data back to the state Child Wellbeing Task Force. The department set aside $1 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding for the initiative.

The program received sharp criticism from members of the Legislature.

“We firmly oppose this type of data collection and overreach by the state government,” Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, wrote Thursday in a Facebook post.

“The [Tennessee] Legislature agrees with Parents and school districts on the “wellness check” situation,” House Republican Caucus Chairman Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, tweeted Friday. “The program will not move forward the way it was put out yesterday. The [Tennessee Department of Education] has heard your voice and is correcting the mistake.”

Lee’s office clarified Friday the initiative, as originally proposed, has been withdrawn. Guidelines released Tuesday by the department have been removed from the department’s website.

“The Department of Education has withdrawn an optional toolkit that helps guide public school districts in addressing the needs of vulnerable students who are facing extended time away from the classroom,” spokesman Gillum Ferguson told The Center Square. “There is not a program or any sort of check-in being administered. This optional guidance is being re-written to make this clear.”

Ferguson clarified the program has nothing to do with children enrolled in home or independent schools. Participation in the initiative also will be completely optional.

In a radio appearance Thursday, Schwinn walked the program back, explaining the state does not have capacity to carry it out as originally presented, and the program was not explained well in the guidelines that were released two days before.

Schwinn said the document was a result of input from a 38-member panel and several agencies, all of whom had good intentions.

“To be perfectly honest, the language was something that we all missed,” Schwinn said. “We’ve updated the language for its actual intent, but there is there’s no big brother. It is all good intentions around a group of children who we know need some additional resources.”

Schwinn also said the goal to conduct a well-being check on every student in the state was “aspirational.” The department will continue to make edits to the guidelines based on feedback it receives.

“We’re talking about a group of students who we’ve been regularly checking in on in the school setting,” Schwinn said. “We want to make sure that kids are getting fed, they’re getting health care, and those types of checks that oftentimes do happen at school. In addition, we know abuse cases are up, and that reporting is down, and so it’s just making sure we get kids what they need.”

The Department of Education did not respond to requests for comment.

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Vivian Jones reports on Tennessee and South Carolina for The Center Square. Her writing has appeared in the Detroit News, The Hill, and publications of The Heartland Institute.






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10 Thoughts to “Child Well-Being Check Initiative Withdrawn After Uproar in Tennessee”

  1. Jay Smith

    The first thing we need is a new Education Commissioner. If she would try something like this Lord knows what else she would do. Apparently from the sound of this article they are still planning to rewrite this and implement it. I see a lot of trouble coming.

  2. Dave

    Proof that if enough of us make our voices heard, we the people can still hold these crooked liars accountable & help rein in their attempts at dictating terms to us. Lee is just another RINO & has shown poor judgement again & again. The voters will hopefully choose wiser the next election.



  3. Patty Canter

    There are severe problems in the public school system in Tennessee that Penny Schwinn needs to address. Although these problems have been made evident by conservative activists, nothing has been done.
    1. Curriculum and textbooks need replaced. Presently, we have textbooks that are extremely flawed and have an anti-America, anti-Christian and anti-Jewish bias in them. Conservative activists have asked for Hillsdale College’s K-12 curriculum, a federally approved program, to be brought into the schools for years, which teaches about the exceptionalism of our Constitutional Republic, which would solve a big problem in the history/social studies area yet nothing has been done. Liberal textbooks with twisted history are still there and children are being indoctrinated against our own country.
    2. The legislature saw that Common Core was detrimental to the students of Tennessee yet it was replaced with a “rebranded” Tennessee State Standards. This was deception. Common Core was “tweaked” in some places but it is the same ole, same ole. It would have been better if we had stayed with the old standards and never gone to Common Core at all.
    3. The school libraries across the state of Tennessee are polluted with hard core pornography novels. This includes books recommended by Common Core which has bestiality and pedophilia in them. It’s appalling. This needs investigated to see how these books got into the school libraries and the whole putrid mess cleaned up.
    4. The school computers have a data base in them that has hard core pornography embedded in them. The school filters do not work on data bases. Children can innocently come across this pornography while searching for a topic. Pornography is a public health crises and nothing is being done in the public schools about it.
    5. There are other programs in the public schools which are extremely liberal of which many parents have not been made aware are there. The communication system between schools and parents and what is going on needs an overhaul.
    6. Our public schools are a godless institution. When the Bible was taken out, light was removed and all kinds of darkness entered into its place. Jesus saith “I am the way, the truth, and the light: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” John 14:6
    Until Penny Schwinn gets the schools in tip top shape with the Lord back into the picture and these dangerous things removed from the schools, she doesn’t need to be starting any more programs, especially going into people’s homes when a proper evaluation can’t even be made in the schools. It’s best if children are in their own homes with their parents guidance and away from public schools and the type of guidance they can come across there.

    1. Wolf Woman

      A big resounding yes, Patty to all your points.

      But nothing about these issues will be done when we have some one like Bill Lee, who ran as a conservative, then appointed a super liberal as head of our State educational department. He either lied to us or he is so naive and indecisive that he’s lost his way. He’s lost my trust over this, his refugee plan and his lack of leadership in the Covid mess. All we can rely on now is our Legislators to hold him in check until we find someone to elect who is a conservative with common sense, an understanding of politics and who cares for Tennessee and its people.

  4. 83ragtop50

    The next thing that needs to be “walked back” is Penny Schwinn. Lee made a major mistake by appointing her. Time to correct course.

    1. Chiron Venizelos

      I agree. Like many in Bill Lee’s administration she is far too liberal to suit my preferences and, simply stated, just not that bright.

  5. Nashvillain

    “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

  6. Mary

    How did they think they would get away with this?

  7. Mike Johnson

    How do you know when a politician is lying? When they open their mouth… Commissioner Schwinn, “To be perfectly honest, the language was something that we all missed,” …walking back….back pedaling…or outright lying?

    I”ll take door #3