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News & Press: Legislation & Advocacy

Reopening TN Schools Position Statement

Monday, July 27, 2020   (2 Comments)
Posted by: Professional Educators of Tennessee
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We believe the state response to COVID-19 for schools has been inadequate for districts, educators, and parents. We have been tremendously disappointed by a perceived or actual lack of respect for educators by the Tennessee Department of Education. We think we are nearing an irreparable level of trust, which we find very unfortunate.


There has not been enough leadership or concrete guidance provided by the state to districts, educators, or parents. In particular, the state has not involved teachers and parents in the development of school reopening plans. Any plan should include a process for recommending and communicating changes. Tennessee public school students, parents, and employees deserve to have a clear understanding of the protections and protocols that will be put in place to address their health and safety.


    • ALL students and educators have a right to a safe school environment.
    • The state, and each district, should involve teachers and parents in the development of all school reopening plans. Also, plans should include a process for recommending and communicating changes.
    • Tennessee public school students, parents, and employees deserve to have a clear understanding of the protections and protocols their local school districts will put in place to address their health and safety.
    • Each school district should develop, approve, and disseminate a local policy that prioritizes student and employee safety. The policy must describe the health and safety measures the district will take to mitigate and respond to the threat of COVID-19 and what action the district will take in response to confirmed cases of COVID-19 in staff or students.
    • Science and the recommendations of local public health agencies, not politics, should drive decision-making about reopening schools.
    • The federal and state government should provide adequate resources for schools and teachers to make reopening school buildings as safe as possible. Teachers should not be expected to provide their own PPE or school supplies, nor should teachers be required to clean or disinfect their classrooms.
    • Instructional time should be maximized and protected. Therefore, we believe that statewide testing requirements should be waived for 2020-21, especially as they relate to accountability.
    • Teacher evaluations should consider the unprecedented nature of the current environment. Evaluations should not be used in a punitive manner.
    • School districts should make accommodations for teachers and staff at higher risk because of age or underlying health conditions to ensure their health and safety.
    • Worker’s compensation insurance should be extended to cover school employees forced to miss time at work due to contracting COVID-19 or being exposed and required to quarantine. We urge the governor to support such an extension of coverage.
    • Districts should prioritize the social and emotional learning of students when schools reopen.
    • There should never be a mandate that requires a school employee to sign a liability waiver for COVID-19 exposure in the workplace. We know of no district in Tennessee that has even suggested a liability waiver. We merely offer this guidance against their use and believe waivers of this nature are legally unenforceable and unconscionable and unreasonable to employees.



Physical and emotional safety is critical, and state leaders need to assure educators and students of their genuine concern. There is a significant lack of educator’s voices throughout this process. The Governor needs to give direct access to his office by educators, so they are certain he hears their unfiltered voice. The quickest way to restore trust would be for Governor Lee to listen to those on the front lines.


Educators know gimmicks do little to foster dialogue. Some stunts or actions could cost education could cost us public support. As public schools are being changed before our very eyes, it is critical the actions we take do not alienate those we serve. We must choose our words carefully. We must place and keep the emphasis on the health and safety of our educators and students first and foremost. However, the public must understand we want to be in our classrooms teaching their children when and where possible, as soon as possible. Online education will never be a substitute for in-person instruction.


Districts should consider:

    • Staff Sick Leave Policies. Clearly defined sick leave policies are essential to reducing the anxiety felt by educators who may become sick or who have a person at higher risk from COVID-19 in their family. Leave policies should include the process for educators to work virtually should they be required to stay at home, as well as other leave policies such as sharing personal/sick days so that staff can access days beyond their accrual. Teachers required to quarantine due to exposure in the classroom should not be required to use sick leave.
    • Staff Childcare. School employees rely on childcare that may have been previously coordinated by the district. Childcare is essential to the continuity of district operations by allowing school employees to work without disruption, which in turn allows students to learn and be supported without disruption. District policies should include a plan for childcare, including health and safety guidelines.
    • Addressing Staff Mental Health. Teachers, administrators, and staff already operate in a high stress occupation, which has been amplified by the unknowns and uncertainties of the pandemic. The district policy should address how the mental health needs of employees will be supported.
    • Addressing Student Social, Mental, and Emotional Health. Student needs outside of academics are at an all-time high. District policies should include how the district plans to bolster social, mental, and emotional supports for students. This may include training for teachers, who are often on the front lines of addressing these student needs.


We think local school boards are best positioned to understand the particular needs of their community. They need the state to serve them, not the other way around, especially during this global pandemic. We understood the gravity from the very beginning, advocating for changes to accountability - especially testing - this year. For those who think this will be a normal year, continuing to advocate that teachers and schools be held accountable for test results: you are pretty delusional. We just need to focus on educating our children, and catching them up where there are gaps. Trust our teachers. For once, put faith in them.


Every day across Tennessee we are talking to elected leaders. We will keep fighting for public education, educators, and students. We are so grateful for all the kind words and input of educators. They are the ones who guide our mission. We will get through this global pandemic together. Public education will emerge stronger if educators drive the process.




JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee and Audrey Shores is the Chief Operating Officer of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan educators association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. To schedule an interview please call 1-800-471-4867 ext.100.


Professional Educators of TN says...
Posted Monday, September 21, 2020
We agree! See our previous press release on assessments and evaluations where we state that "we believe that it is imperative that it is time to finally end the high-stakes connection between statewide assessments and educator accountability measures."
Crystal G. Yanculeff says...
Posted Monday, September 21, 2020
I think it is very unfair for teachers to be evaluated during this time of confusion. Schedules constantly changing, students coming in and out for virtual, time taken to sanitize, learning new technology to attempt to fill the needs of virtual students while not forgetting our in-house students, is more than enough stress without heaping evaluations on top of it. I think this is an issue that should be looked into. Thank you.

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