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Tennessee education commissioner highlights school options for parents in Congressional testimony

Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn testifies Thursday, July 23, 2020, in front of the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor in Washington.

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(The Center Square) – Testifying before Congress on Thursday, Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn emphasized the importance of parental options as schools prepare to reopen for the upcoming school year.

Schwinn testified on strategies for safe school reopening in the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor. This was the third time the Tennessee Department of Education had been invited to Washington to share education strategies during the pandemic.

“Families must make their own choices, and districts must ensure that they are considering the feasibility of providing those choices,” Schwinn said. “Education is personal to everyone. We aren’t just talking about an abstract idea. We’re talking about children: my girls, the children I serve in Tennessee. It’s nothing if not personal. We must treat it as such, and not as an either-or conversation.”

The Department of Education has worked with other state agencies to provide personal protective equipment for every teacher and educational staff member in the state ahead of school reopening. Disinfecting kits also will be provided for classrooms.

“If schools are going to be open, it must be done safely, and with sufficient health protocols and supplies in place,” Schwinn said. “It must also allow the flexibilities necessary to protect vulnerable staff and students.”

Schwinn noted reopening school facilities for in-person education as well as counseling, health and nutritional services is particularly important for vulnerable students. Providing services at a distance is a challenge for administrators.

“We have noted that our more vulnerable populations are at risk, and they rely on schools for services,” Schwinn said. “It is logistically very difficult to provide those services if those children are not in school. … We’re thinking about how to get kids to schools in a safe way so that families have those options that are so critically important for their children.”

Most school districts across the state are opting for an in-person and a distance learning option for the upcoming school year.

“I think Tennessee is a great example of a state that has urban, suburban, rural communities – all have different needs and challenges,” Schwinn said. “That’s why we think parental choice is so important about what’s best for their own child.”

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