Keep school decisions local: Washington County commissioners unanimously approve plea to legislative delegation

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JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) – Washington County commissioners Monday unanimously approved a resolution requesting that local legislators allow local elected bodies — particularly school boards — to make their own decisions about important issues.

The resolution came out of the Health, Education and Welfare committee.

Commissioner Jim Wheeler proposed the “Resolution Supporting Local Decision-Making Authority with Respect to the Delivery of Learning Opportunities in Local Communities” at the Aug. 5 Health, Education and Welfare Committee meeting.

“I just felt like it was time for the commission to consider the opportunity to weigh in and ask our legislative delegation to support decisions regarding the schools being made at the local level,” Wheeler told News Channel 11 earlier Monday.

Wheeler reiterated that reasoning at the commission meeting and with almost no discussion commissioners passed it on a 14-0 vote.

The HEW meeting was three days after Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said he might ask Gov. Bill Lee to call a special session if any Tennessee school districts mandated masks or closed due to COVID spread. Sexton suggested at the time that the state could withhold funding from districts that imposed such mandates or enacted virtual learning.

“When you have the leader of the House telling the entire state school systems to do something one way or they will call a special session, that’s disruptive to the local decision-making process,” Wheeler said.

The resolution lavishes praise on the local delegation — Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) and representatives Rebecca Alexander (R-Jonesborough) and Tim Hicks (R-Gray) — for its “service and leadership” and “willingness to hear and work with local governments and our citizens.”

But it mentions “difficult positions” local school boards could face in coming months to provide in-person learning for K-12 students and asks the legislators “support local authority to make decisions that are independent of the State, rendering local governments as self-governing as possible.”

And it asks the local delegation — Hicks and Alexander both signed a letter supporting the potential need for a special session — not to support any legislation “that would hamper the ability of local school boards to make the best decisions possible to keep Washington County students healthy, and to deliver in-person learning opportunities to the greatest extent possible in our county.”

The commission passed the resolution minutes after Washington County Director of Schools Jerry Boyd gave an update on the system’s continuing increase in COVID among students and teachers.

Boyd said he hoped the recently imposed mask mandate and other updated protocols would soon have a positive impact on COVID’s trajectory in the schools.

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