Gov. Bill Lee officially kicked off a special legislative session Tuesday that will focus on education issues.
Lee has asked the legislature to discuss three proposals this week — on literacy, accountability and learning loss.
But in a speech in front of both chambers Tuesday, Lee went after those those school districts that have opted for virtual schooling to protect the health of students and teachers.
“Kids do better in school. We know that. Parents know that. And that’s why I’m so proud of our districts who have kids in schools,” Lee said. “And to those that remain closed, I would offer this simple encouragement: follow the science.”
Among the school districts that have decided to stay online are Shelby and Davidson.
Lee’s address — which was held at the War Memorial Auditorium instead of the House chamber because of social distancing protocols — also warned about projected learning loss.
“Here’s the bottom line: You can’t say, ‘Follow the science,’ and keep schools closed. You can’t say, ‘I believe in public education,’ and keep schools closed,” Lee said. “And you can’t say you’re putting the needs of students first and keep schools closed.”
But his remarks drew criticism. Talking to reporters after the speech, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Vincent Dixie, D-Nashville, questioned Lee’s use of science as part of his reasoning.
“It’s amazing that he wants to use data and science when it applies to education, but we can’t use data and science when it applies to wearing masks,” Dixie said.
During the pandemic, the governor has refused to implement a statewide mask mandate or call for the closure of bars, despite the White House coronavirus task force recommending those steps.
Dixie said he wants students to go back to school, but in a safe way.
“Our kids — their school day starts on the bus stop. So, how can you safely social distance at that point? How can you safely social distance at school?” Dixie said. “And I think there’s a lot of unanswered questions that the governor’s proposals do not address.”