Tenn. teachers union demands hazard pay, statewide mask mandate

Published: Nov. 17, 2020 at 10:39 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The state’s largest professional organization representing thousands of educators has a list of demands for the governor.

As COVID-19 cases spike across the state, The president of the Tennessee Education Association sent a letter to the governor Monday stating, “According to the data COVID active case rates of school staff are consistently higher-sometimes double- the rate of the community those schools serve."

TEA President Beth Brown said Tuesday, “Our number one priority has always been the health, safety and well being of Tennessee’s students and educators.”

Brown says she is encouraging the governor to:

  • call for a mask mandate for all school staff and students;
  • publish firm state guidance for infection thresholds for school closure;
  • provide substantial emergency state school funding for high-quality PPEs, updated HVAC and air quality systems, and additional cleaning services;
  • enforce all CDC guidelines for school operations
  • fund extended educator sick leave for active cases or quarantines
  • issue guidance to prioritize assigning educators with underlying conditions to remote instruction
  • provide additional health benefits and coverage for staff who have been infected
  • provide hazardous duty pay for all staff directly involved with students

“So not only are educators going into a work situation that is more dangerous than it has ever been, that is riskier than it has ever been, their workload is significantly increased,” said Brown. “We have educators working 60,70, 75 hours a week. Some who are doing double duty because they’re teaching in person and they’re also having to teach virtually.”

Shelby County Schools have remained 100% virtual since the beginning of the school year.

All of the municipal school districts have returned to some sort of in-person learning.

Collierville Middle School temporarily returned to virtual learning this week due to COVID-19.

Tipton County School District is dealing with a number of COVID-19 cases.

According to the Tennessee Department of Education website, the district self-reported 38 new cases among staff this week and 57 new cases among students.

However, Governor Bill Lee said during his media briefing Tuesday about 1% of schools have been forced to close due to COVID and he still maintains being in school is the best option for children.

“It’s really important that children are in person and are in school. We know that. We know there is less loss of learning as a result of that,” said Lee.

Brown agrees nothing is better than in-person learning.

“But if I’m balancing the ability to have in-person instruction versus keeping my students and my colleagues, and myself, and my family safe, I’m going to choose safety every time,” said Brown.

WMC Action News 5 did reach out to Lee’s office for a response to the TEA letter.

His press secretary said via email, “just about all those decisions are made at the local level and we believe strongly in supporting local control of education.”

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