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VOL. 45 | NO. 8 | Friday, February 19, 2021

Governor could require in-person learning under new GOP bill

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NASHVILLE (AP) — Tennessee's Senate on Monday advanced legislation that would allow the governor to issue an executive order requiring schools to offer in-person learning.

The GOP-dominant chamber easily passed the measure on a 27-5 vote, with only Democratic senators opposed.

The bill comes as Republican leaders have lobbed criticisms against Shelby and Davidson counties — the state's most populous counties with Democratic strongholds — after they declined to provide an in-person schooling option for months amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

While both counties have since reopened in-person teaching, GOP lawmakers want to ensure that the governor can intervene when weighing whether to offer in-person learning.

GOP Gov. Bill Lee declared earlier this year that districts that refused to offer in-person learning were not using science to make such decisions — a criticism that has sparked objections from Democratic lawmakers and education advocates.

Lee's administration has particularly focused on Tennessee's dismal third-grade reading scores, warning that student learning was suffering outside the classroom.

According to the bill, school districts would have the authority to decide whether to remain open, but ultimately an executive order by the governor directing schools to return to the classroom would supersede the local level.

The bill must now pass the GOP-dominant House.

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