“Sometimes God knocks us back a bit to remind us we’re not as big and mighty as we think.”
Last week, Metro Nashville Public Schools along with SCS, defied Governor Lee and refused to make alterations to their mask mandates despite his issuance of an Executive Order giving parents a right to opt of any district-mandated mask policy. It was a move that brought instant rebukes and threats of further action from legislators.
Tennessee State House Speaker Cameron Sexton declared that if MNPS was adamant about ignoring the Governor’s wishes, the House stood ready to hold a special session in order to ex[plore other options, including a new voucher policy. There is no reason to doubt the seriousness of Sexton’s threat as every Republican House member had already signed on the request to the Governor to declare a special session.
Over on the Senate side, the two urban districts chosen course of action brought an equally fierce reaction from Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, he had previously been on record opposing the proposed special session, but now fired off a strongly worded rebuke of the two districts, Saying that the legislators will “have no choice but to exercise other remedial options” if school systems refuse to comply with Lee’s order.
Keep in mind, Tennessee is deep, deep, deep, red, Which means that the General Assembly will have the wind at their sails should they decide to strike out at the two districts. Listen closely to how Governor Lee framed his response to the course of action being charted by MNPS and SCS, per the Tennessean,
We’re kind of getting some first responses from a couple of districts that have said they’re looking at their legal options,” Lee said on the “Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show” Tuesday. “There are two of them that have kept their schools closed the longest, have frankly had the worst outcomes academically of the rest of our districts. Most of the districts in our states have figured out now to navigate this forward.”
Read that statement closely, because it’s important. In ELA class, it’s referred to as foreshadowing. What the “aw shucks” guy is doing is setting up a reaction that will be framed in the light of two districts that are failing their children in a growing number of ways. To such an extent, that they leave the state with little option but to act. After all, if our rural and smaller urban districts can successfully navigate the directives of the state and produce positive student results…what’s MNPS and SCS excuse?
It’s also building upon the decades-long feud between the rural districts and the urban districts of the state. What he’s saying between the lines is, Nashville and Memphis always act as if they are better than us, but are they really. So in one statement, the Governor is setting up the state for a mandated action and establishing sympathy for the move with the state’s rural denizens. Remember those folks who were decrying him as ineffective? I think he’s very effective, unfortunately, he’s effective at all the wrong things.
Unfortunately, the state’s misfortunes prove fortuitous for MNPS in the opening rounds of the mask fight. As the Delta strains numbers continue to rise at an unchecked rate, the necessity of a mask mandate becomes more and more apparent. The district is further strengthened by the growing numbers as they bring to light the short-sightedness of Lee and his team in regard to virtual schools. With large percentages of students missing time due to circumstances related to COVID, it would be useful to have that option right now. Alas, Lee and Schwinn took it off the table. The lack of a viable instructional option gives the utilization of masks even greater urgency.
Now I know, there are some variations of virtual instruction still available to districts – having a substitute monitor a class while a teacher delivers instruction remotely or a student tune into a class remotely – but let’s no pretend these options are even comparable to the remote instruction offered last year.
On a side note, the Tennessee State Board of Education will hold a hearing on September 17th to make some changes to previous rules governing virtual schooling. Under the new guidelines, LEA’s would be allowed to offer virtual school options to students who are forced to quarantine. It’s a needed change and one that I doubt will be met with resistance, the only question that remains is why are we waiting until mid-September to allow local districts to meet student needs?
The stronger argument hopefully works to mitigate any vindictive actions the state might be tempted to employ due to MNPS’s decision not to follow the Governor’s directive.
While the growing number of cases of COVID serve to demonstrate the prudence of the position struck by MNPS and SCS, they also indirectly affect the power of Speaker Sexton, who is now reportedly backing off his earlier threat to push for a Special Session. The quandary he now finds himself in, is how do you get 70 plus signature for a Special Session and then say, “My bad, we don’t need a session”, when nothing has really changed? it makes you look weak and ineffectual.
Meanwhile, you have Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles, who is entertaining his own potential run for Governor, talking about the effectiveness of masks and our COVID policies in a manner that is going to resonate with the base. Ogles has continually hammered Governor Lee on his habit of governing by executive order. From the TennesseeStar where Ogles responds to a question about the dueling position between the state and the feds on parents ability to opt-out of a mask mandate,
This is a good example of why ruling by executive order is a bad idea. Call a special session of the General Assembly. Let them address this through the proper process, pass a law, codify it, and state statute. And then now we have a place to stand from.But instead, we’ve had 18 months of executive orders. We’re on what, 84 now? And so I would argue that the governor’s executive order doesn’t have a lot of teeth. And relative to Joe Biden’s, especially considering they hold the purse strings, they being the federal government.
If Ogles starts to pull votes away from Lee or Sexton, the race for Governor starts to get a whole more interesting.
Let’s be real, Sexton and Lee are in a bit of a box right now and in danger of doing real damage to their political careers if they are not careful. They need a palate cleanser in the worse way. Something that’ll change the subject and get their voters back focused on what they want them focused on. Luckily for them, MNPS is always on stand-by to help.
At last night’s school board meeting, member’s passed a non-binding resolution that promises that “The Metropolitan Nashville Board of Education will advocate for research and implementation of social and educational strategies that foster the eradication of institutional racism and white privilege perpetuated by white supremacy culture, And will] furthermore, stand behind teachers who teach the Tennessee Academic Standards in a factual manner that represents the truth of this country’s history.”
The absolutely right position, voiced at exactly the wrong time.
Military academies spend years training cadets on the importance of choosing the proper battlefield when entering into a conflict. It’s drilled into them the necessity of choosing the proper time and place that favor victory. This is a prime example of why that lesson is so important. The pledge district leadership gives stakeholders shouldn’t be to fight all of the important battles, it should be to win all of the important battles.
While that is an impossible promise to make, there are still things you can do to honor that possibility.
Since passing legislation at the end of the last session restricting how race and gender could be taught in school’s little has been done in the way of enforcement. Back at the beginning of the month Commissioner Schwinn released recommended penalties for infractions. Recommendations that were, for the most part, viewed as falling on the ludicrous side. Since then there has been little effort to codify those recommendations.
David Cook sums it up best in a beautifully written article for last Sunday’s Times Press, “Thankfully, the law is mostly bluster. Any teacher can hop around it, as it imagines so much that never happens in a classroom.”
And that’s how the law should be treated at this juncture. Not as a means to free a wounded bear from a potentially deliberating self-made trap. Sometimes the prudent move is to do nothing, thus allowing the bear to do irreparable damage to themselves as a result of their bad decisions. It’s been repeatedly taught to me over the decades, that sometimes victory comes by doing nothing, and leaving people to their own devices.
But rest assured, once again that’s not what MNPS leadership is doing. Instead, they have chosen a strategy that delivers “good feelings” as opposed to one that offerers much-needed real protections.
A non-binding resolution does nothing to counter any harmful intents by the state. Board Chair Christianne Buggs preceded Tuesday’s vote by stating, “In short, teachers we have your back.” By writing a toothless non-binding resolution that invites further reaction from the state?
I would further argue that if teachers need a public non-binding resolution in order to reassure them that you “have their back”, you’ve done a terrible job of creating a culture where they feel supported. In order to identify who has my back, I don require anyone to head down to the public square with a bull horn. That sentiment has been communicated well in advance of any potential conflict. The same should hold true with teachers and school districts.
I get it, teachers are concerned about the implications of the law. They are fearful that their livelihood can be taken from them. But the law itself is badly written, and virtually unenforceable. Some may point to the teacher in Sullivan County who has been fired for assigning kids a Ta-Nehisi Coates essay as evidence of the pending threat. A deeper look at that case reveals, multi-levels and at the very least, the teacher was on a collision course with the district well before state legislation was passed.
The Tennessean article describing last night’s board action closes with quotes from board member Gini Pupo-Walker. Remarks that she delivered to the board earlier in the Summer.
“We have to protect our teachers,” Pupo-Walker said during a July school board meeting. “Our teachers are going to be the ones attacked, the ones questioned, the ones judged. …I will take the hits, I will take whatever it is I have to, to carry the load for [teachers] to do what they need to do.”
While all of that sounds good if you say it fast, the reality is that Gini Pupo-Walker isn’t going to be “taking any hits” for last night’s actions. She’ll still draw a 6 figure salary from an education non-profit that wields entirely too much influence over state education policy. She’ll still hold her seat on the board until her constituents elect someone else. She’ll still benefit from the financial generosity of the Gates Foundation and other billionaires who continue to meddle in education affairs.
If retribution comes, and I have little reason to believe it won’t, it’ll be the teachers, students, and families of Nashville who will bear the cost. When legislators use this action, and others as evidence that MNPS thinks that they are above state law, and then uses that purported evidence to create vouchers, empower charter schools, and further open the door for private entities to profit from Nashville schools, it won’t be Ms. Walker who “takes the hit”, but rather those that can least afford it.
Again, while the cause is just, there are many other battles that demand greater attention. I’m hearing rumblings that despite assurances from the Commissioner that an LEA who secured an 80% or greater participation rate on TCAP wouldn’t be subject to a grade on the state education report card, there is a move afoot to do just that. If this turns out to be true, rest assured the pictured painted about Tennessee’s urban districts would not be a pretty one and could be used as justification for all kinds of nefarious actions.
In essence, to paraphrase Robert Pondiscio, taking up this issue now is akin to having five kids in the pool, four of them on the bottom, and we’re arguing over whether to teach the one kid whose head is above water the backstroke or the crawl.
Earlier in the week, I wrote about striking the balance between the virtuous and the political. Yesterday’s board meeting is another example of a delicate balance misaligned. To reiterate, it can’t be enough just to engage in the important fights, they have to be won. And won at a cost that doesn’t further cripple an already weakened system. That means being deliberate in our actions, and being proactive as opposed to being reactive.
The fight shouldn’t be to prove conviction, but rather to uphold convictions. Last night’s resolution does more of the former, at the expense of the latter.
Earlier today a gun was found in the bag of a Shayne Elementary School student. The gun was found when a para pro went to retrieve the student’s computer. Early indications are that the student was unaware of the gun being in the backpack. Per Channel 4 news District spokesman Sean Braisted, said there is a “full investigation into this situation. Still, there was no immediate danger to any student or staff member.” Either Braisted is unfamiliar with how a loaded gun works or the district’s definition of “immediate danger” is a little different from mine. Glad everyone is safe.
I’m often critical of Tennessean writer Meghan Mangrum, and she often earns that criticism, but today she has a solid piece on a recent report from the Beacon Center showing that only about 53% of education funding makes it to the classroom. Often money is eaten up by administration costs before it gets to students. Interestingly enough, investment in vice-principals is up 25% while investment in principals is only up by 5%. Investment in teachers has actually dropped by 3%.
“While we keep hearing how education is underfunded, the real issue right now is that the money isn’t making it into the classroom,” Jason Edmonds, research associate at the Beacon Center and author of the report, said in a statement. “We continue to spend more and more on administration and systems rather than funding students and teachers.”
Education funding in Tennessee has increased by 30% since 2013 while the number of students has only increased by 5%. Check out the rest of Mangrum’s piece, you’ll come away much better informed.
MNPS released further clarification on its muddy COVID policy for teachers(Return to School Algorithm 8.6.21). Per the directive,
Covid-19 Sick Leave Addition (applicable to 2C and 4 C above): MNPS will provide paid leave to an employee utilizing federal ESSER funds if the following two conditions are met:Medical documentation indicating the staff member was unable to work remotely due to illness caused by Covid-19 AND The employee provides documentation that he/she has received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine prior to isolation or quarantine, OR the employee provides documentation from a Board-certified medical provider that the employee was ineligible to be vaccinated. If Covid-19 Sick Leave is authorized, it has the following restrictions: Covid-19 Sick Leave is only available for the eligible employee and does not cover leave based on a family member’s illness or quarantine. Each approval of Covid-19 Sick Leave will run a maximum of 10 workdays. Any sick leave in excess of this number will be coded as normal sick leave. An employee will be granted Covid-19 Sick Leave a maximum of two times during the 2021-2022 school year. These may not run consecutively and apply to separate medically documented cases of Covid- 19 for which an eligible employee provides medical documentation and that he/she is unable to work remotely due to illness.
August is the month in which I engage in my annual fundraising pitch, and it’s coming to a close. While undertaking this blog was my choice, it’s grown past expectations. It takes a lot of work and resources in order to keep up with it. That’s where I need your help.
This year I began sharing posts via email through Substack. It has been a new foray for me and has helped to increase coverage. I offer both free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. Still a work in progress.
If you don’t wish to subscribe but would like to join the rank of donors, you can head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated. Not begging, just saying.