TN parents frustrated over ‘mixed messaging’ from state leaders regarding COVID and schools

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Tennessee has surpassed a slew of new pandemic records. According to the state’s Department of Health, children account for 40% of all COVID-19 cases and pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise.

Parents said they’re getting mixed messages from state leaders.

Earlier in the summer, Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Cookeville) was one of the first, and loudest voices calling for a special session to ban mask mandates in Tennessee schools. As of Thursday, however, his tune has changed to full support of Governor Bill Lee’s approach to handling the mask issue.

“The governor’s executive order which I think is the right direction allows parents to be in charge of their child’s healthcare,” said Sexton.

Lee’s executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of school mask mandates has come under the microscope as thousands of students are missing out on in-person learning due to the spread of COVID.

“There’s parents who are a little upset about not knowing what this year’s going to look like and I think that’s what you’re seeing across the state,” Sexton said.

But as cases grow and schools close Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn is hearing from frustrated parents. Schwinn posted a back-to-school message on the Department of Education’s Facebook page and received some blowback.

One parent writing under the Facebook video said, “Our family has been very, very careful for 536 days of the pandemic and counting. It only took 8 days of in-person school for my child to be exposed to covid in his classroom.“

Commissioner Schwinn declined to answer questions regarding the confusion some districts are having.

“The state has failed school children across the state of Tennessee we’re getting no leadership from the governor, we’re getting mixed messages from the commissioner of education,” said Rep. John Ray Clemmons.

Clemmons (D-Nashville) said the current plan is not working. “Covid is still a reality the delta variant makes it even more threatening and I’m sure there will be other things that will compound that but when you don’t take appropriate steps and make the affirmative action necessary to protect our children’s health and education we’re going to continue to see this play out in a very concerning manner across the state of Tennessee in every classroom.”

Kids under 12 are not eligible for a vaccine and of those 12 to 20 who are vaccinated accounts for only 8 percent.

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