Tennessee Lt. Gov. McNally Warns Davidson and Shelby Counties on Mask Opt-Outs: General Assembly ‘Will Not Allow Lawful Orders to be Defied’

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s executive order granting public school students the right to opt out of COVID-19 mask mandates has prompted Nashville and Memphis school administrators to announce they will not comply with Lee’s latest directive. That, in turn, prompted a response on Tuesday from Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge). On Facebook, McNally said Metro Nashville Public Schools’ (MNPS) and Shelby County Schools’ (SCS) officials’ apparent defiance against Lee left him “appalled and alarmed.”

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Nashville Mayor John Cooper to Reinstate Mask Mandate for City Buildings

Nashville Mayor John Cooper announced on Wednesday that he will reinstate a mask mandate for all Metro Government buildings beginning Thursday.

The move will require all Metro employees and members of the public to wear a face covering, regardless of the individual’s vaccination status.

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Shelby County Schools to Require Masks, Even for Vaccinated Individuals

Shelby County Schools (SCS) will require masks for all individuals in schools for this upcoming school year – even for vaccinated individuals. However, employees in administrative offices are only strongly encouraged to wear masks. The district issued the announcement last Tuesday, citing the influx of regular and Delta variant COVID-19 cases.

“Like school districts across the nation, SCS is following science and data to guide decisions about providing COVID-19 protection for students, teachers and staff,” stated SCS. “The District is mindful of the rising cases and the spread of the Delta variant. Therefore, masks should be worn indoors (schools) and on buses by all employees and students, regardless of vaccination status until further notice.”

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Shelby County Schools’ New Policy Limits Employees’ Speech on Social Media

Shelby County Schools (SCS) adopted a new policy during its board meeting two weeks ago to limit employee speech on social media. The policy’s goal is to “eliminate disruption” to school or district operations by regulating their employees’ social media. The policy defines social media as all internet-based communication and online content; it lists blogs, podcasts, comments, messages, audio recordings, video recordings, and posts. SCS employees are expressly prohibited from posting anything that creates or may create a disruption.

“All social media use by SCS employees that causes, or has a potential to cause, a disruption to school [sic] school/district operations are prohibited[,]” read the policy. “SCS recognizes that social media is used by many District employees as a means of communication for both District and personal purposes. SCS has an interest in promoting workplace efficiency and avoiding actual and potential workplace and school/district disruption.”

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Legislator Behind Tennessee’s Critical Race Theory Ban Weighs In on Shelby County Schools Racial Justice and Equity Training

Tennessee State Representative John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge) offered his thoughts on Shelby County Schools’ (SCS) consideration of implementing racial justice and equity training. Ragan shared with The Tennessee Star that a requirement of this training as a condition of employment could potentially be an issue – it would have to be voluntary.

As The Star reported this week, SCS may invest up to $480,000 for the racial justice and equity training offered by the nonprofit New Leaders. Upon review of New Leaders’ materials, The Star discovered that it encourages participants to adopt “culturally responsive” practices in schools – a synonym for critical race theory. Additionally, materials repeatedly assert the need for white people to be aware of their race, privilege, and power.

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Shelby County Schools May Pay Up to $480K for Racial Justice and Equity Training

Shelby County Schools (SCS) may pay up to $480,000 for two racial justice and equity trainings offered by a social justice nonprofit. New Leaders, the nonprofit, offers trainings to develop equity-focused, anti-racist educational leaders, with an emphasis on teaching about race in the classroom and the end goal of achieving social justice.

The SCS Board of Education discussed the plan to contract this training during its Academic Performance Committee meeting on Monday.

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Trial Update on Tennessee Principal Placed on Leave for Warning Students About Social Media Censorship

A lawsuit filed by a Shelby County Schools (SCS) principal placed on leave for warning students about social media censorship is making steady progress. As The Tennessee Star reported in January, Cordova High School Principal Barton Thorne had lectured students during a weekly “principal’s message” on the importance of free speech and the marketplace of ideas following the Capitol Hill riot, which he condemned.

Shelby County Board of Education (SCBE) reinstated Thorne the day that he filed the lawsuit against them. The Liberty Justice Center (LJC) is representing Thorne in the case, Thorne v. Shelby County Board of Education. In the lawsuit, Thorne alleged that SCBE violated his right to free speech and had damaged his career, reputation, and family through their response to the public and media.

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Shelby County Schools Equity Audit Revealed Black Students Had Higher Graduation Rates Than White, Hispanic Students for Past Three Years

A Shelby County Schools (SCS) equity audit revealed that Black students had higher graduation rates than their White and Hispanic peers for the past three years. Even when broken down by gender, both Black males and females graduated at higher rates than their White and Hispanic counterparts, respectively. The Shelby County Board of Education reviewed this information on Tuesday. The University of Memphis’ Center for Research in Educational Policy (CREC) conducted the audit, relying on data from SCS and the Tennessee Department of Education (TNDOE).

SCS Equity Officer Michael Lowe gave a presentation on the audit during the Tuesday board meeting. He noted that SCS didn’t actually receive the white paper of the entire audit report. Instead, the presentation was based on CREC’s executive summary of the report. The Tennessee Star requested the full audit report from Shelby County Board of Education Chair Miska Clay Bibbs. She didn’t respond by press time.

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Tennessee Principal Sues Shelby County Schools for Violating First Amendment Rights

A Memphis-area high school principal has filed suit against Shelby County Schools for violating his First Amendment rights after he was suspended for telling students social media and technology companies pose a threat to free speech.

Cordova High School Principal Barton Thorne was placed on administrative leave by the district in January after expressing concern to students over the way unregulated tech and social media companies have the power to control conversations and shut down discussions online.

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Tennessee Senate Education Committee Recommends Passage of Legislation Enabling Governor to Override School Closures

If local officials decide on emergency school closures in the future, Tennessee’s governor may have the power to override them. This, according to a bill recommended for passage by the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. Its companion bill in the House was passed on first consideration on Monday, gaining a little progress since its filing last month.

The bill would also grant all local education authorities (LEAs) with the sole power to open or close schools during an emergency as defined by the Tennessee Code. However, if the governor, local health board, or public health official were to issue orders to the contrary, then the LEA’s decision would be nullified. The bill also noted that the governor’s authority would supersede the authority of local health boards and public health officials. 

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Shelby County Schools Introduces Updated Plan for Re-Entry, Still No Date Established

Shelby County Schools (SCS) unveiled a detailed plan for in-person learning – but they haven’t offered any reopening dates or criteria. These updates were shared on Thursday by SCS Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray. 

SCS also created several simulation videos for what their in-person schooling and transportation would look like. Masked students engaged in all their school activities socially-distanced, including meals. And, students who opt for in-person schooling would still have to learn through virtual instruction.

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Tennessee Supreme Court Agrees to Hear State’s School Voucher Appeal

The Tennessee Supreme Court has agreed to the state’s appeal on the constitutionality of its education savings account program (ESA). The pilot school voucher program has been tied up in a legal battle for all of 2020 after its passage by the General Assembly in 2019, thereby preventing any planned advancement of the program.

The program was previously ruled unconstitutional by Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Anne Martin. She assessed it would disproportionately impact two counties: Shelby County Schools (SCS) and Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS). Those districts reportedly contain about 90 percent of the state’s failing schools list. The Court of Appeals upheld Martin’s decision last September.

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Memphis City Council Entertains Black Lives Matter, Other Activist Demands for Wealth Equity, Minimum Wage, Representation

Memphis City Council devoted the first portion of its Tuesday meeting to hearing the demands of activists. The proposals were a part of a plan called “From Protest to Progress,” organized and sponsored by the Greater Memphis Chamber (GMC). GMC President and CEO Beverly Robertson presented the proposals to the council during Tuesday’s meeting. 

A total of five activist groups, eleven faith-based organizations, around two dozen companies, and one school system are involved. The activist groups are the Peace & Justice Center, Black Lives Matter (BLM), Coalition of Concerned Citizens (C3), Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope (MICAH), and Up the Vote. Shelby County Schools is represented in the initiative through their Minority and Women Business Enterprises (MWBE) Manager, Joyce Douglas.

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Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson Endorses Bill Lee for Governor

The leader of Tennessee’s largest school district is supporting Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee, education news website Chalkbeat reported. Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said Lee would be “open-minded and solutions-oriented” on issues important to him such as “improving testing, raising teacher pay, supporting students’ social and emotional needs…

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Teachers at Memphis High School Told Not to Give Students Grades Below 65

A Memphis high school is telling teachers not to give grades below a 65, leaving some teachers feeling frustrated, reports WREG News Channel 3. One teacher at Kingsbury High School shared an email with WREG that Assistant Principal Nora Jones sent to teachers Monday asking them to fill in missing grades…

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Shelby County Schools Teacher Questions Value of Standardized Testing Blitz

Woodson Maher wonders why more people don’t stop to ask how the Greatest Generation turned out OK without having been subjected to the battery of standardized tests that take up so much time in public schools today. Maher, who teaches marketing at Cordova High School in Shelby County Schools, isn’t…

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Memphis Parents Upset About High School STEM Program

  Some parents in Memphis are upset about East High School becoming a STEM school, with at least one parent saying the plan is racist. “I feel like it’s just like Jim Crow,” parent Jacquelyn Webb told WREG News Channel 3. “They legally separating our students because they want the cream…

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Memphis Principal Resigns, Citing Grades Scandal and Chaos at Trezevant High School

Tennessee Star

  The principal of a Memphis high school has resigned, saying he faced retaliation for drawing attention to a pattern of grades being changed, which has led to an investigation by an independent auditor of all high school records in the district. In a lengthy and revealing resignation letter dated June 1…

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Memphis Middle School Student Attacks Teacher In Latest of Series of Violent Incidents

Tennessee Star

  A 12-year-old Memphis middle school student is accused of assaulting her teacher and school officers, WREG News Channel 3 in Memphis reported last week. The incident at Sherwood Middle School started after the student was asked to leave class because she was listening to music during a test, police said.…

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