The Tennessee Legislature is looking into giving local education districts more leeway to open or shut schools during public emergencies — or the governor the power to send students back to campus.
On Monday, Tennessee State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) presented Senate Bill 103 to the full Senate. The bill passed the Senate as amended, 27-5.
The legislation aims to give school boards more independence when deciding to open or close schools during a public emergency, unless the governor has issued a statewide order, Kelsey said in a statement. School boards can delegate the authority to the director of schools under an amendment added to the legislation.
The bill also would give the governor authority to open schools, the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus said in a statement.
The companion legislation is House Bill 225, carried by State Representative Kevin Vaughn (R-Collierville). That version was filed in the House on Feb. 8. In January, Vaughn said, “This bill seeks to clarify that duly elected local school boards are the ultimate decision makers when it comes to the operation of their schools.”
Kelsey tweeted, “This is a victory for students and parents as every Tennessee family deserves the choice of in-person learning. Allowing students to return to the classroom is long overdue.”
This is a victory for students and parents as every Tennessee family deserves the choice of in-person learning. Allowing students to return to the classroom is long overdue. https://t.co/ooBRtfDI8B
— Brian Kelsey (@BrianKelsey) February 22, 2021
Kelsey also said in his statement, “No one is saying that the governor should force students back into an atmosphere which they feel is unsafe. For those parents who want their children back into school, let’s follow the science, and the science says it’s safe.”
Shelby County was the last Tennessee county to announce plans to reopen even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and American Academy of Pediatrics had recommended students return to classroom instruction, Kelsey said. The announcement that Shelby County schools would reopen was made only two days after Kelsey’s bill was approved by the Senate Education Committee.
The legislation comes after Collierville Schools released a reopening plan for the fall of 2020 based on recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics that was not supported by the Shelby County Health Department, Kelsey said.
“Mandated directives should only come from elected leaders who are accountable to the people they serve,” said Kelsey. “I am very pleased that the Senate has approved this legislation and look forward to seeing it passed by House and enacted into law.”
David Catron, for The American Spectator, recently wrote that now that the CDC issued new guidance on how schools can and should safely reopen, that parents will increasingly grow frustrated with teachers who will not return to the classroom.
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Jason M. Reynolds has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist at outlets of all sizes.