Many of you have contacted HCEA about the Tennessee Department of Education survey about the CARES Act.

 Here is our response:

As professional educators we hold our students’ education as our highest priority and we know that health and physical safety are the central pre-requisites for learning. Therefore, we believe the current focus on making up for lost learning misdirects funds and energy away from the core needs of our students. We ask that the state and local districts prioritize efforts to contact and support students while school remain closed and ensure that every student has a certified teacher in every classroom, as well as provide resources for social and emotional support when schools re-open.

Currently, what educators are doing is crisis education, not “online learning” or “distance learning.”  Right now, Hamilton County’s educators are focused on the difficult work of remotely supporting students’ physical and emotional needs on top of educational needs.  Too many of our young people are isolated and scared right now. Too many are in homes where their physical and emotional well-being are threatened. Too many are without enough food or other necessary supplies, or even a home at all. It has become painfully obvious how much schools, and more importantly, teachers and other school employees, provide all of these things to our state’s youth every day. Even in homes that do not lack in resources and love, many students are still sorely in need of exceptional education services, or English language support, or gifted education services. Educators are doing all they can to track these students down and to make sure that they not only know how to access packets and educational programming on PBS and how to access food, but THAT THEY ARE LOVED. That someone misses them and cares about how they are doing. For far too many of Tennessee’s kids, educators are the only link to their most basic and fundamental needs. People, not online learning programs, are what is making the difference. (And while we’re on it, let’s shout out our bus drivers and cafeteria workers, some of the lowest-paid public employees in the city, for delivering tens of thousands of meals to hungry kids and their families!)

We are hearing concerns from educators who do not have internet at home (years of stagnant, low pay makes that true of more teachers than you think), who are trying to balance the care and education of their own children at the same time, and who have to share their work laptop that they use to teach with their own children who need it to learn.

We are also hearing from parents who are anxious about the loss of learning for their children. Parents, we hear you. But we need you to understand that we are in a global emergency, and if you have the resources to help your child, if your child does not require specialized support, if you have access to books and the internet in your home, if you personally have the education and the capacity to help your children learn right now, you will help in this crisis so much by freeing up educators to better attend to those who do not. Hamilton County is in a unique position of having already moved towards 1 to 1 learning in grades 6-12 and the community has moved mountains to assist in getting support to the elementary grades with a donation of $100,000. Although we are not able to reach all through internet, we are reaching most. Exceptional Ed educators are also making this work for their students, reaching out and teaching online or providing support.

The questions on this survey do not accurately reflect the needs of our district. We are angry with Governor Lee’s decision to continue an early roll out of the voucher program that unfairly targets only Nashville and Memphis, but will draw much-needed millions from school districts across the state. We are disgusted with his decision to gut mental health support for our students, particularly when children will undoubtedly need help processing this terrifying and deadly chapter in our world’s history when they finally return to school. In Nashville, Mt. Juliet, and Lebanon many students are also still recovering from the trauma of a devastating tornado. In Putnam County, students are still grieving the loss of classmates and teachers who died in that tornado.

 The best and most helpful thing that our state could do right now is to ensure that every student returns to a school that has a certified teacher in every classroom and a robust system of social and emotional supports that includes qualified, trained professionals. Even in households that are not suffering from a lack of resources, parents are relying on highly trained professional educators and school counselors to make sure their child is able to learn. The state is making a mistake by cutting funding for social and emotional support and teacher compensation and instead putting resources into internet access, laptops, and professional development for online teaching.

So, we are asking that you type the following answer to this question that allows for a long-form answer:

Understanding that this information will drive an understanding of community feedback to inform local decisions, I would like to see districts implement the following to make up missed learning time: (Please check all that apply)

“Students learn best when they have certified teachers in every classroom and the social and emotional support they need to thrive. Districts should demand Governor Lee cut funding for vouchers and return the funding for student mental health and teacher compensation.”

We also encourage you to submit open comments by following these directions

Additional written feedback should be provided to K12.Health@tn.gov and should be bucketed into three areas:

(1)   How should districts and the state support current/immediate remediation needs for students as a result of school closures?

Suggested answers: Provide state guidelines for districts to provide fair and equitable education. Forbid work from being graded at this time as too many students would fail due to lack of technology, access to the internet or proper academic support Provide general access to digital educational programming.

(2)   What are likely future needs that districts and the state should focus on addressing, with a particular focus on one-time structural needs?

Suggested answers: Prioritize the health and safety of students by providing meals and of employees by keeping schools closed and providing proper safety precautions (masks and gloves) for any that are not working from home, such as the cafeteria workers and bus drivers who are delivering meals. 

(3)   What are additional considerations that districts and the state should address with one-time relief funds? 

Suggested answers: “Students learn best when they have certified teachers in every classroom and the social and emotional support they need to thrive. Districts should demand Governor Lee cut funding for vouchers and return the funding for student mental health and teacher compensation.”

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