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Gov. Lee: We need standardized testing to gauge virus impacts on learning; each district will make call on students wearing masks

Lee said he recognized some teachers, parents may be concerned about what could happen as public school systems begin to welcome pupils back.

Parents, children and teachers need to feel safe about going back to school this fall -- but there's no question schools must get back into session, Gov. Bill Lee said Thursday.

Lee said he recognized some teachers and parents may be concerned about what could happen as public school systems begin to welcome pupils back amid a rise on COVID-19 cases.

But school must resume, he said. Lee said he was confident school systems were taking steps to protect everyone going back to the classroom.

Lee also said he didn't see the need to impose state mandates on mask-wearing at schools.

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"Individual districts will make those decisions," he said Thursday during his weekly media briefing.

Lee also affirmed his desire that TCAP assessments be conducted this coming school year. It's needed so teachers know how children are performing, and it's needed for parents, he said.

No one knows yet what impact suddenly switching to virtual classes this spring had on long-term learning, he said. Williamson County educators wanted a waiver on TCAP tests, a request Lee declined to support this week.

"The only way to know that impact is to make an assessment," Lee said.

Lee said his office would announce Tuesday the state's strategies for reopening of schools by local districts. He said his staff is communicating routinely with superintendents as they prepare to go back to school.

Alcoa Schools started back this week. Knox County goes back Aug. 17.

There are about 60,000 children in the Knox County system, and about 17,000 are opting for at-home, virtual learning this fall, according to figures released Thursday. They must stick with that decision this semester.

Lee also noted state Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn appeared Thursday before a House committee to talk about what Tennessee is doing to get ready.

The governor also said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be releasing further guidance in the coming days about school re-openings. That will be shared across the state with educators and parents, he said.