House approves legislation giving Tennessee’s governor the authority to require all schools to offer in-person learning

Legislation giving Tennessee’s governor the authority to issue an Executive Order requiring all schools to offer in-person learning will be headed to the Governor’s desk soon. 

SB 103/HB 225, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and Rep. Kevin Vaughan (R-Collierville), passed the House of Representatives today. The bill follows almost a year of frustration by students and parents after some districts chose to deny them an in-person option while others across the stare returned.

Shelby County was the last county in Tennessee 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.  The announcement that Shelby County schools would reopen was made only two days after Kelsey’s bill was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate Education Committee in February. 

“This is a victory for students and parents as every Tennessee family deserves the choice of in-person learning,” said Sen. Kelsey.  “Allowing students to return to the classroom is long overdue as we have many students, especially low-income students, who are struggling this year and falling behind their peers.  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.”

The bill grants school boards more independence regarding whether their schools should be open or closed to in-person learning during a public emergency, unless the governor has issued a statewide order.  School boards can delegate the authority to the director of schools under an amendment added to the legislation.

“Learning can happen anywhere, but the value of face-to-face classroom interaction with teachers and peers cannot be understated,” Vaughan said. “Our students have suffered tremendous learning loss, but they have also missed out on opportunities for success critical for their educational journeys. I’m grateful for the support of my colleagues in the General Assembly.”

The legislation also 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.

“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.”