TSD education columnist Curtis Weathers: "When partisan politics become more important than what is in the best interest of our children and their education, then we are in real trouble." 

by Curtis Weathers —

Have you ever heard the saying, politics and education don’t mix?  Well, me neither, I just made it up.

But it is true.

When partisan politics become more important than what is in the best interest of our children and their education, then we are in real trouble. 

But, of course, according to that definition, we have been in real trouble for quite some time.

Three very important things happened during the past couple of weeks that remind us that the politics of Tennessee lawmakers is undoubtedly more important than the health and wellbeing of our teachers, children and citizens as a whole.

First, the Tennessee General Assembly, in a special session last week, rushed through COVID-19 related legislation seeking to stop local governments, school systems and businesses from enacting COVID-related rules designed to protect their constituents.

The legislation specifies that, during the existence of any declared pandemic, the governor has exclusive authority to issue executive orders and directives concerning each county’s health department in the state of Tennessee.

These bills “prohibit the commissioner of health and any local health department, board, entity, or official from superseding, vacating, contradicting, or refusing to comply with any such executive order or gubernatorial directive.”

This legislation will, in effect, handcuff local leaders from making decisions that are in the best interest of their constituents. 

It prevents county health officials from issuing orders, rules and regulations that are necessary or appropriate to protect the general health and safety of their communities.

When health departments and school systems decide to impose masks mandates, they are doing so to protect the health and wellbeing of students, families and employees.

What other reasons could there be? 

Tennessee legislators apparently believe otherwise. They believe school systems that make such decisions threaten the individual liberties of parents, who should have the right to refuse and reject vaccines and mask mandates if they so choose, regardless of whether their decisions threaten the health and safety of those around them.

This legislation will surely cause confusion for businesses and school systems, especially if such orders are not aligned with federal mandates. 

By the way, did you know that eight years ago, many of today’s anti-mandate Republican legislators voted in favor of a vaccine mandate to fight the spread of meningitis on college campuses? 

I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. 

Eight years ago, with near-unanimous support, the General Assembly passed a requirement that incoming college students living on campuses be vaccinated against meningitis. 

A pair of West Tennessee Democrats sponsored the Jacob Nunley Act of 2013 after Nunley, a Middle Tennessee State University student from Dyersburg, died of the disease.

The Republican-led General Assembly actually imposed a statewide vaccine mandate based on the death of one person!

According to state records, the meningitis bill passed the House 94-1 and the Senate 30-0.

I remind you, as of today, hundreds of thousands of people have gotten sick and have died from COVID-19 and yet our legislature wants to prevent local governments and school systems from issuing the same type of mandate they overwhelmingly approved just eight years ago.

What happened to Republican concerns for individual liberties back then? It simply was not an issue.

And neither should it be today. So, what has changed? The POLITICS! 

Secondly, they now want to thicken the partisan divide in our state by putting forth measures that allow school board races, which heretofore have been nonpartisan contests in Tennessee, to attach Democratic or Republican labels to candidates on the ballot.

This issue has taken on new significance in light of the hostilities that continue to unfold at school board meetings across Tennessee and the nation over controversial issues like mask mandates and critical race theory.

Sponsors of this bill say that voters need more information to help them select candidates that reflect their ideals, beliefs and values.

That is nonsense. 

We have gone this long without such information on our ballots; why now?  The POLITICS!

And lastly, the Tennessee Department of Education school funding town hall meetings taking place across the state is a good idea. 

I watched the broadcast of the meeting held in Shelby County. It always is good to hear from citizens in our community about the education of our children. 

However, I am not a huge fan of these types of town hall meetings.

It always has been my belief that these types of meetings serve as texture or cover for decisions that have already been made. 

There has been a lot of talk about a new Student Base Funding formula. We need more information on how such a formula works and how it will serve us better than what we currently have, and not serve as a slight-of-hands effort to move towards tuition vouchers.

One thing we can forever be sure of is that the health and wellbeing of the individual citizens of our state are far less important than the politics of our leaders and their own personal agendas. 

Always keep that in mind.

Stay safe, Memphis!


(Follow TSD education columnist Curtis Weathers on Twitter (@curtisweathers); email: [email protected].)