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Education leader calls for more protection for educators and students as cases rise

Many in-person districts are now seeing more virtual learning days as holidays near.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A Tennessee education leader is asking for more guidance for schools as COVID-19 cases rise across the state.

Tennessee Education Association president Beth Brown expressed her concerns in a letter to Governor Bill Lee.

She said their data shows infection rates for educators are higher than the communities they live in and that more must be done to protect them.

"The bottom line is our top priority has to be safety," said Brown. "Nobody wants to be more in school for in-person instruction more than educators."

But reality is looming. More COVID-19 cases are being reported across Tennessee and the Tennessee Department of Health reported a total of 328,088 cases.

"The practical reality and the prudent decision is we've got to do something to get the numbers down," said Cumberland County teacher Calvin Kemmer. 

Many in-person districts are now seeing virtual days as holidays near. Schools across East Tennessee are closed to in-person learning until after Thanksgiving break.

"Infection rates across the state are skyrocketing. Things are not getting better," said Brown. 

The confusion among districts is why Brown is speaking out. In a letter to Governor Lee, she asks for better PPE and ventilation systems for schools, more guidance for closures and hazard pay for teachers, among other things, citing a lack of protection from the virus.  

"The primary focus during all of this has to be the health, safety and wellbeing of Tennessee students and educators," she said.

Kemmer has done everything to keep his classroom safe. However, he said that the amount of student exposure has been up. He said he has noticed more infections in his roster.

"If it comes down to a choice between offering in-person instruction or ensuring the safety, my colleagues, my students and family, I'm going to choose safety every time," Brown said.

He agrees there's nothing like in-person learning. However, he also said that, right now, safety needs to be a priority. 

"We oughta finish virtually to make sure everyone is safe as we possibly can be and be thankful we had as much time as we got in person," Kemmer said.