Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn is giving schools the option to return to remote learning as they struggle with COVID-19 cases.
Schwinn on Friday sent a letter to school districts informing them that they can apply for a waiver to switch to remote learning, which the state currently prohibits, The Associated Press reported.
“I firmly believe in-person instruction is the best for kids, and there are proven strategies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Schwinn wrote.
“While I want to provide common sense flexibilities to administrators who are making every possible effort to ensure the continuation of in-person academic instruction, my expectation is that waivers will be narrowly applied to preserve in-person learning wherever practicable,” she added.
Schools need to “demonstrate and document COVID-related needs in their school communities that necessitate a temporary shift to remote instruction for classrooms or entire schools,” she said.
The waivers apply to individual schools and not entire school districts, as some schools have had to shut down due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
Thousands of students around the country, including in Tennessee, have had to quarantine after exposure to the virus in the first week of classes.
Children comprise 36 percent of new virus cases in the state, according to Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey, the AP noted.
Tennessee is one of many states debating mask mandates in schools as the 2021-2022 school year begins.
One school district went viral on social media after parents were seen yelling at health care workers who were advocating for masks. The school, despite the parents' objection, has expanded its mask mandate.
The Hill has reached out to the state’s education department for comment.