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🔥REV. LAWSON CALLS OUT GOV. LEE

🔥Rev. Lawson: “GOVERNOR LEE, YOU HAVE A HOLE DOWN THE MIDDLE OF YOUR SOUL.”

Rev. Lawson, who led the lunch counter sit-ins, called out Governor Lee at the John Lewis Way celebration for his immoral decision-making — challenging Lee to lead with heart & humanity instead.

 

DR. LEWIS: “Knee-Jerk Reactions Will Harm Tennessee’s Children”

“Knee-Jerk Reactions Will Harm Tennessee’s Children”

An Op-Ed from Dr. Terri Lewis of Tennessee

In recent days, the contingent of state legislative anti-vaxxers successfully browbeat the Tennessee Department of Health into cancelling childhood vaccine outreach programs – not just for COVID19, but for all routine childhood immunization programs.

On face, it appears that the TN Dept of Health, responsible for public health in 89 of Tennessee’s 95 counties excluding major metropolitan areas where local agencies wield more authority, will no longer conduct public outreach for any preventable childhood communicable disease.

‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ seems to be the new public health strategy.

Tennessee lags behind the nation in all measures of disease prevention through vaccination. As of July 13, the number of fully vaccinated Tennesseans for COVID settled at 2,599,234 or 38.06% of the population. Overall, Tennessee ranks 33rd among the 50 states with a childhood vaccination rate of 79.9% against a population of 6,944,260. Tennessee currently meets HP2030 targets for 2 out of 3 vaccination-related measures for 24-month old children.

But there are significant gaps.

Many of Tennessee’s children have not completed the entire series of vaccines for preventable illnesses in the last decade. Minority children are less likely to be fully immunized. Some parents refused any and all routine immunizations.

Progress toward meeting vaccination rates for children up to the age of 24 months is located on theTNDOH website [1].

As concerning is the announcement by Dr. Tim Jones, Chief Medical Officer, that henceforth, no vaccination efforts will be conducted for routine childhood vaccines, with the HPV vaccine particularly singled out.

No outreach includes “pre-planning” for flu shots events at schools and back to school vaccines, and by inference, routine immunizations for infants, toddlers, teens and college students. Responsibility for back to school vaccines will become the responsibility of the Tennessee Dept of Education, not the TNDOH.

The elements of a successful outreach effort are well documented.

First, parental and community education and messaging around the safety, efficacy, and importance of childhood immunization is essential to ensure that children receive the full complement of preventive vaccines. With the gap in health insurance coverage for children this is an important function of the TNDOH at the county level across the state.

Second, there must be ready access to immunizations at every opportunity. The percent of children without health insurance increased from 5.2% in 2018 to 5.7% in 2019, with Hispanic children most represented in the childhood insurance coverage gap [2]. By fall of 2020, 9% of Tennessee children were uninsured, more than twice the level at the same time in 2019, according to the Vanderbilt Center for Child Health Policy[3]. Brief periods of being uninsured can have long-term effects on the health of children and their achievement in school… children who lose their insurance miss important immunizations and go months with major unaddressed problems…” [J. Zickafoose, MD, MS, Monroe Carrell Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt]. Children who fall into the coverage gap are least likely to receive preventive care.

Third, reliable and readily accessible immunization records that provide a non-duplicated reflection of on-time immunizations are important for ensuring an accurate personal history for personal health management. This responsibility lies with health providers, not the Tennessee Department of Education. Lack of health coverage will magnify the negative impact of the childhood coverage gap where the health system fails to conduct routine outreach.

Finally, preventable childhood diseases are on the rise with the reduction in vaccination rates. Uninsured children are particularly vulnerable. When compared with privately insured children, uninsured children have more health disadvantages including need for medical or dental care; greater severity of illness, more hospitalizations and higher mortality rates; more vaccine-preventable disease; and higher rates of chronic illness such as asthma and diabetes [4].

The announced actions that resulted decisions to termination vaccine program leadership and cease immunization program outreach will have harmful effects resulting in tangible, measurable harms to Tennessee’s children and youth.

I strongly encourage the re-examination of these knee-jerk reactions to pressures exercised from certain sectors of the population.

[1] https://www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/health/documents/cedep-weeklyreports/2020-24-Month-Old-Survey.pdf

[2] https://www.aappublications.org/news/2020/12/01/researchupdate120120

[3] https://www.vumc.org/health-policy/tennessee-poll-uninsured-kids-covid19-2020

[4] https://www.americashealthrankings.org/explore/health-of-women-and-children/measure/Uninsured_children/state/TN

Dr. Terri Lewis

Silver Point, TN

Global Immunization Action Network Team

https://www.giant-int.org/

 

 

 

@TheTNHoller

DR. FISCUS RESPONDS, WITH RECEIPTS

Yesterday, the Tennessee Department of Health released a letter they claim was written by Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tim Jones on July 9th outlining their reasons for firing Dr. Fiscus, Tennessee’s top vaccine expert. For some reason this letter was not mentioned when the story of the Fiscus firing initially broke, and quickly became national news – and, according to Dr. Fiscus, was not shared with her at the time of her firing.

The Jones letter attacks the leadership and management abilities of Dr. Fiscus, and even goes so far as to accuse her of attempting to self-deal by steering Department resources to an organization she stood to gain from, without evidence. We posted a link in which Dr. Fiscus addresses those baseless accusations. We have also reached out to Dr. Jones and Commissioner Piercey for interviews about it, but have not heard back.

Dr. Fiscus has also gone ahead and addressed the letter point by point in a scathing takedown of the Jones letter. We have posted it below in its entirety.

-She says she’s “disappointed in people I considered friends and mentors,” describing how CMO Tim Jones and John Dunn (who wrote glowing reports) supported her… until they didn’t.

-She addresses CMO Tim Jones’ attacking her leadership and character by pointing to and including excerpts from her glowing performance reviews, with receipts.

Jones attempted to use a meeting with another physician against Dr. Fiscus — who counters with a text from that physician calling her “the greatest treasure the department had” and referring to her firing as “complete and utter bullshit”.

-In the dirtiest part of the Jones letter, he implies Dr. Fiscus is self-dealing. Her performance reviews show they not only knew about Immunize TN (the org she convened), they call it “very successful” in her performance reviews.

Jones accuses Dr. Fiscus of sharing “her own interpretation” of the mature minor doctrine without running it by counsel. Sooo… she includes an email from TDH counsel saying the summary has been blessed by Governor Lee’s office and is ok to forward” — oops.

-Lastly, Dr. Fiscus takes on Governor Lee’s office “dodging the question” and “twisting the narrative away from the subject” of how they’ve changed the vaccine program for children in Tennessee. (which their own anti-vaccine supporters have bragged that they have).

Bottom Line: This Dr. Fiscus rebuttal makes it clear The Tennessee Department of Health and Governor Lee not only were willing to scapegoat TN’s top vaccine expert for political reasons… they’re also very comfortable making things up to assassinate her character as well.

Good luck with recruitment.

 

For Immediate Release

July 15, 2021

Michelle Fiscus, MD FAAP Response to Tennessee Department of Health’s Justification of Termination

I apologize in advance for the length of this response, but there is much to say in response to TDH’s recently released letter attempting to justify my termination. I became aware of the existence of the document today when it was shared with my husband by a member of the media.

First, let me say how disappointed I am in people whom I considered friends and mentors in the Department of Health. Dr. Tim Jones, who signed this letter to Commissioner Piercey, recruited me to the position of medical director of the Tennessee Immunization Program in 2018 and has been a trusted friend and colleague. He has confided in me throughout this pandemic response, and first let me know that my employment at TDH was threatened in late June 2021. I asked him at that time, in a meeting with my direct supervisor, Dr. John Dunn, on what grounds I was to be terminated and he replied, “None, as far as I’m concerned” and told me he would continue to “fight” for me to remain at TDH. In the moment, I told Drs. Jones and Dunn that I would resign before I would allow them to terminate me.

Over the next few weeks, both Dr. Dunn and Dr. Jones voiced their continued support for me, with Dr. Dunn telling me repeatedly that I “belonged at TDH” and that he did not want me to leave. I repeatedly shared with Dr. Dunn that I would not remain at TDH, but that I hoped my departure would be on my timeline rather than that of the administration’s. Dr. Dunn went to far as to text state Chief Operating Officer, Brandon Gibson, regarding the injustice he felt over the talks of my termination at the level of Governor’s office. I asked Dr. Dunn if Chief Gibson responded to the text, to which he replied, “She ‘hearted it’”.

On Saturday, July 3rd I received an unexpected call from Dr. Jones on my personal cell phone. Dr. Jones asked if I was at home because he wanted to “drop something by the house.” I assumed it was a letter ending my employment, but Dr. Jones said, rather sheepishly, that he was bring by scones that his wife, Jill, had baked for me. “…and an orchid.” I asked Dr. Jones if he was also bringing a letter with him and he sounded surprised that I asked. He responded, “No. I just want you to know you’re not the only one lying awake at night staring at the ceiling over this.” I told him I was out of town, he said, “good” and we ended the call. On Wednesday, July 7th, when I returned to the office, the plate of scones and the orchid were on my desk (I have since given the orchid to one of my former employees rather than bring it home) as well as the Amazon envelope containing the dog muzzle. I sent Dr. Jones a text thanking him for the scones and the orchid and asked if he also sent the muzzle. He said he did not. This does not seem to be behavior consistent with that of an individual who would write this letter of justification that was dated just two days later.

On July 12th at 0617 Dr. Dunn sent me the following text: “Good morning Shelley. I think all their timelines and decision points are said he [sic] sure you have everything you need and one [sic] today.” I called Dr. Dunn because his text was unclear and he stated that I should connect with Tim (Jones) sometime that day and that I should make sure “you have everything you need”. Shortly after this, Tim Jones called me on my personal cell phone and said, “You will be getting an invite for a meeting today at 3:30pm. I probably won’t be alone. Let me know if you would like to talk before then.” “What would we talk about?”, I asked. Tim replied, “Well, if you want to give me anything.” I replied, “Oh, no. Thanks.”

Just prior to 3:30 I went up to see the Deputy Commissioner, who has been a dear friend in the Department. I found Dr. Jones pacing in the hallway, clearly distressed. His back was to me and I said, “are you pacing???” but did not wait for a reply. As I have previously stated, Dr. Jones met with me and a member of the human resources department at 3:30pm, stated he was sorry to have to have the meeting, and provided me the choice of resignation or the “expiration of my executive service”. Dr. Jones appeared somewhat surprised with my choice to be terminated.

I will address the content of the letter point by point:

On multiple occasions during the 2020-2021 COVID response, Dr. Fiscus has failed to maintain satisfactory and harmonious relationships among her team. In February 2021, CEDEP leadership and TDH Human Resources received multiple complaints from program staff regarding her management style, treatment of employees, and poor program morale. Dr. Dunn met with five senior team members who expressed consistent complaints related to management of the program by Dr. Fiscus during the COVID response. He had several coaching sessions with Dr. Fiscus, with minimal improvement in the situation noted. Two of her most senior leaders have subsequently resigned.

My annual reviews from my four years at TDH refute these allegations. From my annual review for the period of 10/1/2019-9/30/2020, written by Dr. John Dunn and approved by Dr. Tim Jones:

“Dr. Fiscus has consistently exceeded expectations during this evaluation period. Her leadership in running the program activities has been exceptional. Many of the program staff have been on AWS yet they are meeting program objectives and deliverables.” End of cycle outcome rating: Outstanding

“Dr. Fiscus has selflessly focused on the needs of her team and not [sic] her own professional development plan. Her attention to team dynamics and staffing have been outstanding during this rating period. She is providing opportunities to her staff to step into leadership roles. Dr. Fiscus has considtently [sic] exceeded expectations in regards to management of HR issues and balancing the additional workload related to C19.” End of cycle outcome rating: Outstanding

From my interim evaluations from 12/01/2020 – 6/30/2021, written by Dr. John Dunn (changes in HR policy no longer required Dr. Tim Jones’ approval):

“The vaccine team and Dr. Fiscus have been under tremendous stress with attrition being noted. Dr. Fiscus is working closely with her team to provide growth and development opportunities while balancing the workload of COVID vaccine.”

The two employees referenced who have resigned have completed exit interviews with senior leaders outside of my program. Their comments were shared with Dr. Dunn and did not indicate that their resignations were due to my leadership. One of the two employees accepted an opportunity with a global health organization, which was their aspiration. Both I consider to be good friends and are still in frequent contact with me.

On March 7, 2021, Dr. Dunn and I met with Dr. Fiscus and another departmental physician to mediate complaints against Dr. Fiscus of disrespectful treatment and ineffective management. The meeting terminated with a refusal of both parties to communicate constructively, and with a refusal by the other physician to work further on the VPDIP team. Dr. Fiscus was coached on professionalism and teamwork.

This has been a pandemic of historic proportions and a COVID-19 vaccine roll-out that required that I, as well as members of my team, work extraordinary hours for months on end. It was stressful and, at times, there were disagreements. The physician referenced above reached out to Dr. Jones because she was concerned about my ability to continue to work at the pace I was working and hoped Dr. Jones might be able to assist me with delegating responsibilities. I was never “coached on professionalism” although I was coached on teamwork and the need to work on my ability to delegate responsibility to others. The physician referenced above sent a text to me on Monday, July 12, after learning of my termination. It read (shared with permission):

“What you may not know from our interactions is that I truly believe you are the greatest treasure TDH had. This is complete and utter [expletive] and I am incredibly proud of you, the work you’ve done, and your response to this situation. Stay strong and keep up the good fight!”

Dating back to December 2020, the vaccine planning team required intervention by CEDEP leadership to address inefficient use of team resources, including poor inter-program communication regarding vaccine distribution. Repeated failures by Dr. Fiscus to appropriately delegate to others resulted in repetitive, long, and inefficient meetings. These meetings took already busy colleagues away from other tasks.

Again, annual reviews refute these allegations. The statewide roll-out of multiple new vaccines using new means and methods developed by the federal government that must be adapted to a local environment is complex and extremely challenging. It did take time to determine the most efficient and effective means for accomplishing this goal, which I accomplished with excellence.

From my annual review for the period of 10/1/2019-9/30/2020, written by Dr. John Dunn and approved by Dr. Tim Jones:

“Dr. Fiscus has been a strong leader for the VPD team and has been an integral piece of the COVID pandemic response. Her leadership and efforts in multiple areas have been critical.”

“Dr. Fiscus has exceeded expectations for this work outcome [Ensure that reports of vaccine preventable diseases are responded to rapidly and thoroughly]. Her efforts to maintain programmatic [sic] activities have been notable. She has been a key contributor and leader for the C19 response. Her work in balancing the upcoming flu and C19 vaccine planning has been excellent. End of cycle outcome rating: Advanced

“Dr. Fiscus has done an outstanding job representing TDH and CEDEP. Her work has far exceeded expectations in regards to outbreach [sic] to stakeholder groups and collaborators in the C19 response…. I greatly appreciate her leadership and teamwork. End of cycle outcome rating: Outstanding

Over the past three months Dr. Fiscus requested to give a new non-profit organization TDH funding to support VPDIP activities. This organization was founded and led by Dr. Fiscus, had no Executive Director or other employees, and had no other substantive source of funding. Providing funds to such an entity would be poor judgement and a substantial conflict of interest.

When I joined the Immunization Program I looked to see what the state’s immunization coalition had been doing and found Tennessee was one of only two states in the southeast that did not have a statewide coalition.

As evidenced by my 2019 job plan:

“VERY SUCCESSFUL”

As you can see, leadership at TDH was well aware of my work to convene ImmunizeTN and celebrated those efforts. I convened stakeholders who went on to incorporate as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. I am not on the board of directors, I am not on the payroll, and I serve in only an ex-officio advisory capacity to the board. The coalition has funding from the American Academy of Pediatrics and it is true that I was going to use CDC funding to support the work of the coalition to promote immunizations and provide education to healthcare providers and to the public. ImmunizeTN also has a social media presence which is used to spread pro-vaccine messaging and refute anti-vaccine mis- and disinformation. The CDC provides funding to state immunization programs to support this work and encourages states to provide financial support to their immunization coalitions. There is no conflict of interest as I do not benefit materially from the coalition. I would argue that the refusal of TDH to allow the use of CDC funds to support the work of this coalition further obstructs our ability to combat vaccine misinformation and overcome vaccine hesitancy.

I have released my annual evaluation, in their entirety, to the media, except for the 2018-2019 document, which is not in my possession. I have requested a copy of that document from TDH Human Resources without response. I request that this document be released immediately as it, too, supports my record as an exemplary employee of TDH.

In June, 2021, Dr. Fiscus communicated directly with a state university regarding the department producing COVID-vaccine reports for the institution. She did not notify or consult with supervisors, and the situation only became evident when departmental legal counsel received formal documents directly from the university memorializing the arrangement. The requested reports were not produced by the department.

As I do not have access to my state email account, I cannot be certain of the details of this situation. As the state-appointed liaison to all levels of education in Tennessee as it pertained to the COVID-19 response, I was the point contact for all colleges and universities in the state. To my recollection, the University of Tennessee asked if TDH would be able to provide data regarding the COVID-19 immunization coverage rate of UTK students and staff using data from the immunization registry. UTK provided a draft data use agreement which I forwarded to the TDH Office of General Counsel for their review and thoughts, but I do not recall receiving a response. There was no consultation with supervisors because I did not completely understand what was being requested by UTK and my first inquiry was to OGC for the review of the document.

In May, 2021, Dr. Fiscus broadly shared a letter regarding her own interpretation of state and federal law with external partners with respect to vaccinations and other medical treatment of minors. The letter should have been reviewed by both leadership and departmental legal counsel. However, Dr. Fiscus did not share the letter nor otherwise include any of these parties in the drafting process prior to sending it out. This action resulted in confusion of both law and policy for private providers, parents, and legislators.

The details of the Mature Minor Doctrine memo of May 10th have been shared broadly, as have the emails that led up to the release of that document. The memo is in the public record. There is no personal interpretation of the doctrine included in that memo—the language, with the exception of the introductory paragraph and the final line, “There is no federal, legal requirement for parent or caregiver consent for COVID-19, or any other, vaccine”, was taken verbatim from the document provided to me by Grant Mullins, TDH chief legal counsel. It was not customary for my communications with medical providers regarding the logistics and administration of COVID-19 vaccines to be reviewed, and several memos preceded this one without any discussion of the need for internal review. To state that I did not include legal counsel in the drafting process is clearly untrue, given Mr. Mullin’s email to me below which states, “this is forward facing so feel free to distribute to anyone.”

Additionally, I would like to respond to statements released by the Governor’s office.

Governor Lee’s press secretary, Casey Black, stated the following in an email to the media on July 14, 2021:

Despite misleading reporting, the Department of Health has not halted the Vaccines for Children Program that provides information and vaccine access to Tennessee parents. This program covers immunizations including DTap, MMR, Polio, Chicken Pox and Hepatitis B and will continue to be successfully administered:

• Tennessee ranked among the top 10 states for MMR vaccination coverage among kindergartners during the 2019-2020 school year • 95.3 percent of 2020-2021 kindergarten students in TN were fully immunized

• For more than a decade Tennessee has above 90 percent coverage of kindergarten students receiving childhood immunizations including DTap, MMR, Polio, Chicken Pox, Hepatitis B.

The department is mindful of ensuring parents, not kids, are the intended audience for any outreach efforts regarding medical decisions for children and has simply re-evaluated some tactics like reminder postcards and follow-up communications. While childhood immunization rates temporarily dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are already seeing vaccination rates rebound to pre-pandemic levels and will continue supporting parents who are working to get their families back on track.

I know a lot of misleading info is being shared, so don’t hesitate to give me a call if you have any questions.

I’ve also copied Sarah Tanksley from the Dept. of Health here in case any follow up is needed on her end.

Thanks again,

Casey Black Press Secretary | Office of the Governor

What is stated above is, indeed, factual; however, it is not relevant to the concern regarding TDH’s moratorium on childhood vaccination events in schools, outreach to adolescents or their parents regarding COVID-19 vaccinations, or the directive to not publicize National Immunization Awareness Month in August. I have never stated that the Vaccines for Children Program had been halted. The VFC Program is an entitlement program that provides vaccines to children who are insured through TennCare or who are uninsured, and I would certainly hope that the work of that program has been unhindered. What has been halted is the partnerships between local health departments and outside agencies, such as schools, to provide vaccines outside of a local health department. What has been halted is any attempts to communicate to parents that their children are in need of critical routine immunizations during this back-to-school season. That is a significant change from the standard operations of the Department of Health and this decision creates barriers to immunization and will result in decreased vaccination coverage rates, especially among poor and minority populations. It is interesting that the talking points provided discuss the past accomplishments of the program, all of which were under the direction of myself and my immediate predecessor and have absolutely nothing to do with the current concerns regarding the actions taken by Dr. Piercey to appease a handful of outraged and uninformed legislators. The information I have shared is not “misleading”, it is the response from the Governor’s office that both dodges the questions posed and twists the narrative away from the subject at hand.

 

 

TN HEALTH DEPT. HIGHER-UPS ATTACK DR. FISCUS’ CHARACTER

Earlier today the Tennessee Department of health released a letter from Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tim Jones to Department Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey (supposedly from July 9th) outlining the justification for firing Dr. Michelle Fiscus, the state’s top vaccine expert. This comes after a tremendous amount of blowback on a national scale, and reeks of a cleanup effort on the part of Governor Lee’s administration.

The letter disparages Dr. Fiscus in many ways, questioning her character, leadership abilities, and relationships, which doesn’t seem to jive with her glowing performance reviews – but it also goes the extra mile and alludes to outright corruption, implying Dr. Fiscus was steering resources to a foundation for her own benefit, calling it a “conflict of interest”.

Dr. Tim Jones says:

“Over the past three months Dr. Fiscus requested to give a new non-profit organization TDH funding to support VPDIP activities. This organization was founded and led by Dr. Fiscus, had no Executive Director or other employees, and had no other substantive source of funding. Providing funds to such an entity would be poor judgement and a substantial conflict of interest.

We spoke with Dr. Fiscus about this. She says she helped convene Immunize TN, a 501(c)(3) organization, to raise awareness about immunizations and refute anti-vaccine propaganda and get more Tennesseans vaccinated. “We’re asked by the CDC to put together pro-vaccination coalitions, and they give a grant to the state to support your state’s immunization coalition,” Dr. Fiscus told us. “Tennessee didn’t have one, so we got one together to make one. Immunize TN was going to do some of the work we were asked to do, which is standard operating procedure.”

Dr. Fiscus says she doesn’t receive pay from Immunize TN and is not on the board, saying she helped bring it together and was trying to steer resources to it to help it grow and become effective, part of her job as the state’s top vaccine expert. “They’re making it seem like I was trying to feather my best, which is completely false. The letter from Tim Jones alleges there was no board of directors, which is untrue. It has been in the works for 2 years and is part of my work plan.”

She says requests for funding for Immunize TN were made by Doctor Dorothy Sinard, who is on the board and is one of the other doctors involved. Dr. Sinard could not yet be reached for comment.

“Why wouldn’t that letter have been shared with me at the time of my termination?” Dr. Fiscus wonders.

A fair question.

REP. CLEMMONS ON THE FISCUS FIRING: “I’M INFURIATED”

Rep. John Ray Clemmons shared his feelings on Governor Lee firing Dr. Fiscus for doing her job and trying to keep Tennesseans safe, saying all Tennesseans should be “infuriated” at Lee for caving to the extreme science-denying right. Clemmons also expresses disappointment with TN Dept. of Health commish Dr. Lisa Piercey for not standing up for Dr. Fiscus.

DR. FISCUS CALLS GOV. LEE “TOXIC TO WORK UNDER”

Today Tennessee’s top immunizations expert Dr. Michelle Fiscus is making the rounds on national shows talking about her firing at the hands of Governor Lee for doing her job and trying to keep Tennessee safe. She isn’t holding back. Below are some clips.

HEALTH DEPT’S FISCUS FIRED FOR DOING HER JOB

Today, Dr. Michelle D Fiscus, who serves as the Medical Director of Tennessee’s Vaccine Preventable Diseases and Immunization program, has been fired from her role by Governor Lee’s administration.

This comes in the wake of public pressure from elected Republicans, who have threatened to dissolve the department because of what they perceive to be a push to encourage young Tennesseans to get vaccinated, which might be reasonably considered to be part of her job.

Last month in a government ops committee meeting things got heated when Republicans learned the Tennessee Department of Health had been allowing young Tennesseans over 14 to get the COVID-19 vaccine if they so chose even without their parents signing off on it.

The Health Department did this because the law allows them to, and because the data shows the vaccine is protecting people – almost every single Tennessean to die of the disease in recent months has been unvaccinated – but that didn’t stop Rep. Scott Cepicky and others from attacking the department and threatening dissolution.

The number of younger Tennesseans to get the vaccine without parental approval was exactly eight, three of which were TN Dept of Health commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey’s own children.

The Fiscus firing is pretty clearly Governor Lee’s way of sacrificing her to the extreme right in an effort to alleviate some of the pressure.

In essence, Dr. Fiscus is being fired for doing her job as she tries to get Tennesseans vaccinated.

We are currently towards the very bottom in terms of vaccine intake, in no small part because of a lack of leadership at the top, not only from Rep. Cepicky, but also from TN House GOP caucus chair Jeremy Faison, who has actively been trying to dissuade Tennesseans from getting the vaccine.

Tennessee Republicans have also gotten plenty of help from Fox News and other conservative sites, who have been repeatedly and constantly disparaging the vaccine even though they themselves have been vaccinated, including Fox chief Rupert Murdoch.

The cynicism is breathtaking.

STATEMENT FROM DR. FISCUS:

July 12, 2021

Today I became the 25th of 64 state and territorial immunization program directors to leave their position during this pandemic. That’s nearly 40% of us. And along with our resignations or retirements or, as in my case, push from office, goes the institutional knowledge and leadership of our respective COVID-19 vaccine responses.  I will not sit quietly by while our public health infrastructure is eroded in the midst of a pandemic.

We are a group of dedicated public health professionals who have worked endless hours to make COVID-19 vaccines, the ONE tool we have to effectively end the scourge of the COVID-19 pandemic, available to every person in our jurisdictions.  Along the way we have been disparaged, demeaned, accused, and sometimes vilified by a public who chooses not to believe in science, and elected and appointed officials who have put their own self-interest above the people they were chosen to represent and protect.

On May 6, 2021, in advance of the approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for 12-15 year olds and in response to multiple questions I had received regarding the rules around vaccinating minors, I reached out to Tennessee Department of Health’s general counsel to request a statement regarding Tennessee’s Mature Minor Doctrine that resulted from a Tennessee Supreme Court Ruling in Cardwell v Bechtol in 1987. In response, I received a document attached to an email stating, “Sure—Attached is the new summary of the doctrine that has just recently been posted to the website and is blessed by the Governor’s office on the subject. This is forward facing so feel free to distribute to anyone.” On May 10, 2021, I copied and pasted the language provided to me into a memo that was distributed only to providers who were administering COVID-19 vaccines. A recipient of that memo was upset that, according to Tennessee Supreme Court case law, minors ages 14-17 years are able to receive medical care in Tennessee without parental consent and posted the memo to social media. Within days, legislators were contacting TDH asking questions about the memo with some interpreting it as an attempt to undermine parental authority. Let me be clear: this was an informational memo containing language approved by the TDH Office of General Counsel which was sent to medical providers by the medical director of the state’s immunization program regarding the guardrails set 34 years ago by the Tennessee Supreme Court around providing care to minors.

What has occurred in the time between the release of this memo and today, when I was terminated from my position as medical director of the vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization program at the Tennessee Department of Health, can only be described as bizarre. On May 19th TDH was asked to appear before the Government Operations Committee due to the concern that the memo was “a bit of a prodding or encouraging to vaccinate children without parental consent”.  This was followed by a series of requests from members of the Committee for data around the impact of COVID-19 on children and a request to appear before the Committee again on June 16. It was at that June 16th meeting that the Department was accused of “targeting” youth through Facebook messaging and its actions were described as “reprehensible” by one Committee member. That member went on to call for the “dissolving and reconstitution” of the Department of Health in the midst of a pandemic where one out of every 542 Tennesseans has died from COVID-19 on their watch and less than 38% of Tennesseans have been vaccinated. It is the mission of the Tennessee Department of Health to “protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of the people of Tennessee” and protecting them against the deadliest infectious disease event in more than 100 years IS our job. It’s the most important job we’ve had in recent history. Specifically, it was MY job to provide evidence-basededucation and vaccine access so that Tennesseans could protect themselves against COVID-19. I have now been terminated for doing exactly that. Each of us should be waking up every morning with one question on our minds: “What can I do to protect the people of Tennessee against COVID-19?”. Instead, our leaders are putting barriers in place to ensure the people of Tennessee remain at-risk, even with the delta variant bearing down upon us.

What’s more is that the leadership of the Tennessee Department of Health has reacted to the sabre rattling from the Government Operations Committee by halting ALL vaccination outreach for children.  Not just COVID-19 vaccine outreach for teens, but ALL communications around vaccines of any kind. No back-to-school messaging to the more than 30,000 parents who did not get their children measles vaccines last year due to the pandemic.  No messaging around human papilloma virus vaccine to the residents of the state with one of the highest HPV cancer rates in the country. No observation of National Immunization Awareness Month in August. No reminders to the parents of teens who are late in receiving their second COVID-19 vaccine. THIS is a failure of public health to protect the people of Tennessee and THAT is what is “reprehensible”. When the people elected and appointed to lead this state put their political gains ahead of the public good, they have betrayed the people who have trusted them with their lives.

I was told that I should have been more “politically aware” and that I “poked the bear” when I sent a memo to medical providers clarifying a 34 year old Tennessee Supreme Court ruling. I am not a political operative, I am a physician who was, until today, charged with protecting the people of Tennessee, including its children, against preventable diseases like COVID-19. I have been terminated for doing my job because some of our politicians have bought into the anti-vaccine misinformation campaign rather than taking the time to speak with the medical experts. They believe what they choose to believe rather than what is factual and evidence-based. And it is the people of Tennessee who will suffer the consequences of the actions of the very people they put into power. The public health professionals at the Tennessee Department of Health have worked themselves to exhaustion to protect Tennesseans from this virus. They are heroes. They have prevented suffering and saved countless lives. They are to be honored and commended, not cursed and vilified. And the “leaders” of this state who have put their heads in the sand and denied the existence of COVID-19 or who thought they knew better than the scientists who have spent their lives working to prevent disease… who have ignored the dead and dying surrounding them—even when their own colleagues have fought for their lives—they are what is “reprehensible”. I am ashamed of them. I am afraid for my state. I am angry for the amazing people of the Tennessee Department of Health who have been mistreated by an uneducated public and leaders who have only their own interests in mind. And I am deeply saddened for the people of Tennessee, who will continue to become sick and die from this vaccine-preventable disease because they choose to listen to the nonsense spread by ignorant people. At this point, you are going to get vaccinated or you are going to get sick. Yes, not getting the vaccine is a personal choice.  It’s true that you are likely to survive COVID-19.  It’s the 1 out of every 542 people surrounding you that will suffer the consequences of an unfortunate decision to remain vulnerable to this horrible disease.

May God bless the people of Tennessee.

Michelle D. Fiscus, MD FAAP

REP. JOHN RAY CLEMMONS: “Governor Lee is out of Touch.”

Rep. John Ray Clemmons lashes out at Lee & The GOP over their attacks on the unemployed, who they clearly think are lazy: “GOVERNOR LEE IS OUT OF TOUCH”

FULL INTERVIEW & PODCAST

“Nyquil and Tylenol” – Lee and Schwinn’s Learning Loss Nonsense

“The point is that, whenever we propose a solution to a problem, we ought to try as hard as we can to overthrow our solution, rather than defend it. Few of us, unfortunately, practice this precept; but other people, fortunately, will supply the criticism for us if we fail to supply it ourselves.”
― Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery

 on  “Dad Gone Wild.”

Nearly a decade ago, upon founding my think tank and beginning to release my white papers (tip of the hat to Peter Greene), I promised myself I wouldn’t write angry. And for the most part, I’ve stuck to that self promise. Though there have been times where I’ve been filled with self-righteous rage, feeling a burning desire to slam out a passionate missive, I have fought the desire and chosen to wait 24 hours to allow myself time to arrive at a bit more of a nuanced take. Till now.

These days I’m struggling a bit. Since the conclusion of the Tennessee General Assembly’s recent Special session, I find myself in a constant state of agitation. To be truthful, you should be as well. A big part of the problem is that the approved legislation was so sloppily written and hastily passed, that I continue to find new issues every time I look at it. Issues that serve to benefit adults more so than kids.

An added factor is the taking of what is supposedly a historic tragedy and offering a pedestrian solution. For months, Governor Lee and Commissioner Schwinn have been pedaling a narrative of dire consequences for the state’s children due to the pandemic using easily disputable data. According to Lee, “COVID-19 has disrupted every aspect of education and we are on the cusp of severe consequences for our students if we don’t act now.”

By now we are all familiar with his claims of 50% learning loss in ELA and 65% in math. If these numbers were true, they’d be cause for deep concern. I’d assume that Lee believes they are true. So it stands to reason that faced with such dire straights, he has some bold initiatives in hand. Surely if he’s calling a special session of the General Assembly to focus on education policy, they’ve already delved into the crisis and are ready to meet the unprecedented circumstances with unprecedented actions.

Nope, what we’ve got are summer schools and tutoring corps. Kinda like going to the doctor and having him tell you that you have COVID-19, and then prescribing Tylenol and NyQuil to treat it. Fine under normal circumstances, but damn, you’ve got a serious life-threatening illness. One that should call for a little more than previously utilized remedies that are readily available.

Worse than that, the more you look at the legislation that came out of the special session the more you recognize it as a series of bills slapped together like a bad batch of bathroom hootch. So bad, that apparently the Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn herself isn’t quite sure what’s in them. When presenting the legislation to the State Board of Education members, she painted a picture of a series of plans designed to assist LEA’s, all fully optional and dependent on local decisions. That’s not the picture painted by a recent synopsis produced by the Tennessee Comptrollers’ office.

For example, go to the 1 hour and 12-minute mark of the aforementioned state board of education meeting and you’ll hear Ms. Schwinn clearly say, “districts do not have to retain a single child.” This was about the 3rd-grade retention rule in the recently passed policies. Arguably, she was arguing that there are several offerings in order to keep a child from being retained, but it also seems clear that Ms. Schwinn was downplaying the threat of retention. The video is full of similar instances of soft-peddling.

I’m not the only one picking up on the problems with the bills. Over at the TNEd Report, Andy Spears reports on push back by the Germantown School Board. The school board takes exception to the 80% TNReady participation required to avoid negative consequences as a result of student testing. In their eyes, the legislation provides the commissioner with the power to grant waivers but fails to provide requirements for earning those waivers. They are rightfully concerned that with a large percentage of students remaining virtual, they will have a hard time meeting that threshold.

Here’s the big picture, Tennessee’s legislators have codified a power to the Commissioner concerning something that she hasn’t been granted a federal waiver to implement. Federal legislation says that districts are required to test 95% of students. Many states are applying for a waiver to not conduct standardized testing at all this year. Tennessee isn’t one of them, we are asking for a waiver to only require districts to test 80%of eligible students. A waiver that has yet to be granted, despite Schwinn’s assurances that a cousin of a friend who has a sister who works in a coffee shop outside the DOE offices in Washington thinks that this is aligned with the thinking at the newly staffed USDOE. This is despite Biden’s pick for Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, still awaiting confirmation.

It’s a pretty presumptuous move considering that Cardona has sent mixed signals on how he’ll address standardized testing this year. Per Chalkbeat,

“If the conditions under COVID-19 prevent a student from being in school in person, I don’t think we need to be bringing students in just to test them,” he said. At the same time, he said getting a gauge of student learning is important. “If we don’t assess where our students are and their level of performance, it’s going to be difficult for us to provide targeted support.”

A bigger question would be, why are we even administering standardized tests at all this year? Across the state of Tennessee, students have faced a wide array of educational options this year. Some have been exclusively remote, while some have received mainly live instruction. Others its been a mixed set of options. Some families have been severely impacted by COVID, while others remain mostly unscathed. The bottom line is that everyone is doing their best to navigate the ongoing crisis with varying degrees of success. As such, time spent testing would be better spent helping kids adjust to their circumstances and continuing instructional efforts. The Education Trust and several allies disagree.

The national non-profit education advocacy group, headed up locally by MNPS school board member Gini Pupo-Walker, have sent a joint letter to the USDOE urging them to not grant any testing waivers. Citing a report by McKinsey and Company – yes, the opioid folks – they claim,

These factors have cost students, by some estimates, an average of seven months of learning, with a disparate impact of nine months for Latino students and 10 months for Black students. The projected impact of interrupted learning for students from low-income backgrounds is more than a year.1 Perhaps even more concerning, as many as 3 million students are still missing from school.2

Besides the obvious, that “months of learning” is a bullshit number that assumes all kids learn at the same rate, the letter paints a picture of schools not having a clear idea of where students are after nearly a year of interruption due to the COVID-19 crisis. It’s a picture shared by Commissioner Schwinn and Governor Lee as well. It’s also inaccurate.

What everyone fails to tell you is that we have already tested the heck out of kids. Since arriving back from Winter Break, my 5th grader and my 6th grader have already been subjected to the second round of Math and ELA testing with both MAP and IReady. EL students are now starting on WIDA testing. Tennessee’s RTI legislation requires schools to use a screener three times a year. So to act as if we don’t know where students are at this juncture is a little disingenuous. As is the inference that by administrating the BIG TEST, three million students are going to come running back to schools. Both are myths crafted to fuel adult agendas.

Let me tell you what is more likely to happen. The state does not have access this year to individual LEA’s student data from local tests, which changes next year. Therefore they need the results from the BIG TEST. I know they said that this year is a hold harmless year, but that doesn’t mean that results can’t be used in order to support the TNDOE’s narrative of failure. I’m sure that over the summer there will be a great clutching of pearls and rendering of garments over the sad state of Tennessee’s schoolchildren based on results from a test given in the midst of a pandemic. Legislators and bureaucrats will sprain their arms patting each other on the back about their great foresight in passing legislation to combat the dire straits our children now find themselves in.

That’s not to say that summer camp and tutoring can be beneficial to kids. research has shown under the right conditions, both have proven beneficial. However, for many kids, it is not going to be enough. They, unfortunately, require so much more, some of which fall outside of the purview of the classroom. Those kids will, per usual, be left to their own devices, because serving them would actually require some boldness and forethought. It would also require addressing poverty issues, which we are always loathed to do.  Well, maybe we’ll give them a voucher, then we won’t have to worry about them.

There is another group of kids – “Bubble Kids” – that are very useful for politicians and their ilk. These are the kids that sit just below the “on-track” level. The ones who, with just a little bit of extra attention can be pushed over the line and claimed as a success story. Now before you recoil in horror, rest assured, I’m just making this up. It’s been an unspoken practice in the past and there is no reason to think it won’t be in the future. Especially when a man is running for re-election and needs some positive states.

Here’s, for further explanation, is an excerpt from a piece written in 2005,

So the bubble kids are identified, divided into groups, and tutored relentlessly. The kids who missed by 5 or 6 points, maybe 10 points; what happens to them. It’s simple. They cant raise their scores enough to help the schools rating, so they are ignored. Why would you waste your time with them the school thinks, they can’t help us. They don’t get intense help with their work. After all, don’t you know, they won’t ever pass anyway. Why waste valuable tutoring time on them? Of course, what a brilliant idea – work with the kids who can make you look good and throw the others to the sharks. I truely wish I knew which of our administrative geniuses brought that obscene idea into the district. Thats Sheldon Independent School District, always go for the easy stupid solution instead of the complex one that would require planning, actual thought, listening to teachers, or giving a care.

Lest we forget, tutoring and summer school are not new. The new legislation proposes 1:1 tutoring levels for kids. Where are those tutors supposed to come from? And if they are truly out there why have we not identified them in the past? How many people will sign up to be a tutor, collect their per diem to go through training, and then bail when they realize that it’s a lot more difficult than they imagined?

Tennessee established a successful summer program back in 2016 with the Read to Be Ready initiative. The program proved effective and popular with local school districts. But since they were initiatives of the previous Governor and not products of Schwinn and Lee’s tenure, they were left to wither, along with the network of literacy specialists when funding was left to dry up. Lee and his commissioner chose instead to focus on voucher legislation, which is still tied up in court.

Reading about the program in a past edition of Chalkbeat can evoke a clear sense of missed opportunity,

And what began with 12 summer reading camps in the program’s inaugural year — through a $1 million gift from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation — had grown tenfold by the second year, thanks in large part to a federal DHS grant. Last summer, more than 7,700 children who are mostly economically disadvantaged took part in 250 reading camps across the state, and more than 193,000 high-quality books were given to the students to take home. Even more camps are underway this summer via an $8.9 million grant program.

According to a report released last fall, first-, second-, and third-graders who participated in the camps showed gains in reading comprehension and accuracy skills for a third straight year. And the last two summers generated statistically significant improvements in those skills, based on assessments given in the early and last days of the camps.

Despite recent evidence, nobody called, “Bullshit,” when special session legislation was rolled out. Nobody pointed out that previously camps were funded at a 1:16 ratio of teachers/students in the past and that under the new legislation, despite being flush with federal dollars, it would be 1:20. Questions were raised about adequate funding, but just as quickly dismissed. The reality is that this year’s legislation fails to provide adequate funding for districts to open their buildings in the summer months.

It was no different with the bill granting raises to teachers. $120 million sounds great unless you do the math. Teachers may have been promised a 4% raise, but all one has to do is read the Comptrollers report to get a clear understanding that Tennessee’s teachers shouldn’t be planning any big purchases shortly.

The additional funding may be used to support salary increases for certified staff as well as school nurses. Flexibility within the appropriations language allows districts to determine how to distribute the additional funds, such as through salary increases or bonuses. The increase is generally based on the number of positions calculated for each district in the instructional salary category of the BEP. In FY 2021, the BEP funded approximately 66,241 licensed instructional positions; school districts employed 77,704 instructional personnel in 2018-19, the latest year of data available.

Once again, politicians get a blurb for their palm cards, while teachers are left with an empty bag. But nobody says anything. Teachers say nothing because they’ve become accustomed to empty promises from legislators and as a result tune out the words before they even leave the mouths of legislators. Others are too concerned about losing access or their seat at the table. Don’t want to make anyone mad, or you’ll lose your staus. And so once again, another session passes with teachers falling economically further behind.

Right now in D.C., there is a lot of talk about the death of Democracy. Nothing will destroy democracy faster than enabling politicians to continually craft bad laws unchallenged. While we all fight to preserve our seat at the table, the table continually shrinks, until it reaches a point where all the power is consolidated in a few hands. Hands that work to exclude all that disagree.

Representative Cerpicky from Maury County is this year’s Chair of the House’s Education-Instruction subcommittee. This week he held his first committee meeting. He began proceedings, by stating the purpose of the committee. In his words,

“We are here to be child-centered. To be student-centered. We are not here to protect the status quo ore the system. Except for the parts of that system that succeed in putting the success of our children first. We are not here for the comfort of adults, but for the opportunities for excellence, advancement, and ultimately to be advocates and essential stewards of the individual independence afforded by an excellent education.

How are the citizens of a Republic to be be free without the ability to look after themselves and participate as critical thinkers in this work of self-governance?”

They are beautiful words. Heartfelt words. Inspiring words. I hope that is not all they are. Otherwise, we are going to need a whole lot more than NyQuil and Tylenol.

QUICK HITS

This week Senate Education Committee Chair Brian Kelsey launched another attack on Shelby County Schools for not opening school buildings. Kelsey is supporting a bill that would give the Governor executive powers to open/close school districts. The fight is part of a much larger battle going on nationwide over urban districts opening school buildings. It’s a discussion devoid of nuance. Keeanga-Yamahtta-Taylor adds some of that nuance in a recent New Yorker piece.

Chicago public schools are only eleven per cent white; Black and Latinx students make up eighty-one per cent of the student body. Unsurprisingly, white students are overrepresented among those opting for in-person learning, and also those who are actually showing up to school. Since early January, there has been a phased-in return to public-school buildings, beginning with preschool and special-education students, with the next phase bringing back kids in kindergarten through eighth grade. Among C.P.S. elementary-school students, only thirty-one per cent of Latinx students, thirty-three per cent of Asian students, and thirty-four per cent of Black students were opted to return to school buildings by their parents. In contrast, the parents of more than sixty-seven per cent of white children opted them in.

Taylor goes on to show that just because schools are open, does not mean that students are showing up. I strongly encourage you to read the whole piece.

It’s good to know that I’m not the only one noticing how inadequate the TDOE’s READ 360 is. Today national writer Nancy Baily takes it apart. She rightfully questions Tennessee’s stated goal of “accelerating learning”. Pointing out that,

Accelerating learning seems to be an obsession among some policymakers, and it’s hard to understand. What possible good comes from forcing children to learn fast? Why are states still trying to make students race to some obscure finish line? How many children will end up with learning problems because of it?

Tru dat. read it all, you won’t be sorry.

At least one Tennessee lawmaker seems to have some common sense. Lt. Governor Randy McNally is quoted in today’s Tennessean as observing that, “Whatever we do will probably be reviewed by the federal government and they can cut funding to the state,” he said. “It’s an issue I think that we need to move very carefully.” His comments are in stark contrast to those of Governor Lee who 2 days ago made the claim that ‘transgenders participating in women’s sports will destroy women’s sports,” he told reporters. “It will ruin the opportunity for girls to earn scholarships. It will put a glass ceiling back over women that hasn’t been there.” In a ludicrous that is predicated on a large number of transgender athletes looking to participate in woman’s sports and a larger number of college programs willing to by-pass female athletes for college scholarships. To date, there is evidence of neither.

Congratulations to former MNPS principal Darwin Mason on his being named as Ensworth’ss new Head of Middle School for the 2021-2022 school year! Well done. Ensworth conducted a Nashville search before finding their man right here in their back yard.

Note to leaders. Creating an advisory cabinet of teachers, principals, or superintendents, is not sufficient. You have to actually listen to them. Otherwise, you might as well not form an advisory cabinet. Just saying.

We are slow in offering this, but we still want to offer our condolences to former MNEA President Eric Huth. Eric lost his son a couple of weeks ago. No parent should ever have to bury their own child, and our heart goes out to him.

If you’ve got time and are looking for a smile, check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page, where we work to accentuate the positive. We’ve started to include more pictures of kids returning to buildings.

If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it on to [email protected] Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is always welcome.

A huge shout out to all of you who’ve lent your financial support. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do and without you, I would have been forced to quit long ago. It is truly appreciated and keeps the bill collectors happy. Now more than ever your continued support is vital.

If you are interested, I’m now sharing posts via email through Substack. This is a new foray for me and an effort to increase coverage. ‘ll be offering free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. We’ll see how it goes.

If you wish to join the rank of donors, you can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated, especially this time of year when my contracted work is a little slow. Not begging, just saying.

The Burden of Proof

“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters” ― Albert Einstein

 on  “Dad Gone Wild.”

Two days ago the Tennessean ran an article reporting that MNPS had received a letter from the Commissioner of Education accusing them of fiscal malfeasance regarding their management of federal funds delivered through the CARES Act. In the commissioner’s words,

“I cannot underscore enough the seriousness of the current financial management of federal funds and compliance issues in MNPS,” Schwinn wrote Monday. “It is imperative that these issues be resolved quickly, accurately, and comprehensively, so as to provide students with the resources that they need and to move the district to a space of compliance with federal and state law.”

Yikes, dems are some strong words. Department spokesman Victoria Robinson followed up with strong words of her own,

“The issues addressed in the letter represent systemic financial and programmatic concerns documented by multiple oversight agencies at both state and federal levels over multiple years,

Governor Lee’s spokesman Laine Arnold piled on,

“When student achievement, teacher compensation and all manner of public education issues are blamed on lack of funding, $110 million sitting idly by is not acceptable for Nashville families,”

Apparently, things are a little slow in Memphis because Representative Mark White felt the need to offer his two cents,

“Unless we have accountability from these school districts, we can’t keep throwing money at them if we don’t see improvement,” said Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis,

As the basis for their criticism, several references were made to a recent audit put forth by the comptroller’s office. Per Schwinn,

“Within 45 days, the district must also remedy findings from a recent comptroller’s audit.”

Being the crazy guy that I am, I decided to read the comptroller’s report to get an idea of the severity of the issues. After spending 30 minutes on the state website and being unable to locate the said report, I called the comptroller, where I was promptly informed that the reason I couldn’t locate the report was that the report wasn’t yet available. It wouldn’t be available until…March. In fact, the comptroller’s office was still in the process of constructing the report.

Some of you may be unfamiliar with how the audit process works. Once the subject of the audit is defined, a field team is sent out to investigate. They compile data and notes. These findings are preliminarily shared internally to possibly get more clarity. All involved are allowed to offer a rebuttal to any findings. After the rebuttals are submitted the report is compiled and only then is released with the stamp of approval from the comptroller’s office. It is an arduous and rigorous undertaking.

Per the comptroller, the field investigation into MNPS spending has just recently been concluded. Speculation, that affords a generous amount of grace, is that Schwinn saw some irregularities in the preliminary findings, conducted her own investigations, maybe substantiated those initial suspicions, and then dashed off her letter. How extensive an investigation the DOE could have completed is questionable, as the impression I got from the comptroller’s office was that fieldwork had just been completed in the last few weeks.

I reached out to Victoria Robinson, TDOE spokeswoman, and asked if I could see the report that TDOE generated to support their allegations or at least the notes connected to the investigation. As of now, I’ve yet to hear a response and if history with this administration holds true, I likely won’t see a response until mid-July or August. Regardless of her reply, the facts still hold true, Governor Lee and Penny Schwinn, are attempting to punish MNPS while citing a report that does not exist. And based on their interference may never exist. The whole thing smells like a plot cooked up over Happy Hour at the Capital Grill.

The bigger issue is that it makes others complicit in the Schwinigans. The comptroller’s office prides itself on its non-partisanship – just the facts mam. With Lee and Schwinn, citing a report that is still under construction, that mission in this instance is possibly tainted.

Will the writers find themselves under pressure to craft a report that backs the Governor up in an effort not to embarrass him, or do they try and be kind to MNPS because perhaps they have kids in the system? Either way, the impartiality of the report is tainted. People’s motives will likely come in to question through no fault of their own, but rather due to the selfishness of the two bureaucrats.

That’s a loss for all of us because, in order to have a functioning society, there has to faith in the impartiality of our democratic institutions. The comptroller’s office, like the Supreme Court, is a key component in our democratic structure and as such, should never be carelessly used for political fodder.

If this was the first occurrence of such behavior by Governor Lee and Commissioner Schwinn it would still be disturbing, but defensible. The problem is, it’s not. It is just another instance, in a lengthy list of instances, of deception perpetrated by the bumbling duo.

Think back to August when the two put forth the idea that due to the pandemic, students were facing learning losses of 50% in ELA and 65% in math. When pressed to supply data to back up these suppositions, they just created a cloud of confusion, while failing to produce confirmation. The inability to substantiate their claims is because “learning loss” is a political construct and not a real measurement. Currently, no assessment measures learning loss. We can measure performance levels, and growth, but not “learning loss.” Anything put forth under that banner should be considered pure speculation and subject to personal desires.

Fortunately for the dynamic duo, nobody really delved into their claims. So they were free to continue to spout their falsehoods, and they did at every opportunity. Sure there was some mention that some people “questioned” the numbers, but most media outlets and politicians continued to talk about “learning loss” as if it was carved on tablets from Mount Sinai. Until this week, when Memphis television station WMC5 started digging into Schwinn and Lee’s claims. What they found, is that they didn’t hold water.

Despite new data suggesting COVID-19 learning loss wasn’t as severe as predicted, state leaders continue to use old data, which some have called misleading, to pressure school districts like Shelby County Schools to reopen for in-person classes.

Once again, a political agenda took precedence over accuracy. We now know that Lee along with Schwinn pulled the numbers out of their ass. A crass accusation, but due to the depth of their deception, a necessary one.

As a nation, we’ve just emerged from a deep conversation about the importance of leaders being truthful, and the potential of dire consequences when our elected leaders fail to adhere to that standard. Throughout their tenure, both Lee and Schwinn have continually acted in a manner that pays little heed to accuracy and honesty. Instead of choosing to pick and choose nuggets to use to make their arguments independent of their veracity.

It’s a pattern of evidence that includes an ever-growing list of instances. From the wasting of taxpayer money by inventing a costly excuse to avoid meeting with the US Secretary of Education to offering testimony to the head of the state’s Senate Education Committee, that she hasn’t met with vendors over a pending RFP despite video evidence to the contrary available on the department website, Schwinn and company continue to abuse the trust of Tennessee taxpayers through their machinations of the truth. Schwinn achieves new heights in the use of doublespeak. At one point during her recent special session testimony, education experts pondered whether she was actually using real words describing real circumstances.

Other instances include a willingness to receive a six-figure paycheck as Executive Director from a state-funded charter school for impoverished children in California while collecting a paycheck as a senior state official across the country in Delaware. As well as recently claiming in Senate hearings during a special session of the Tennessee General Assembly that the department will create an ELA screener that adheres to Tennessee state standards and is nationally normed. Something that is impossible to create.

Political insiders on both sides of the aisle have long marveled at Ms. Schwinn’s ability to contradict herself regularly in testimony to the General Assembly. So much so that at a Senate Education Committee meeting last Spring, where the Commissioner was slated to testify, the chair felt compelled to take the virtually unprecedented action of having the rules of perjury read before opening proceedings. You didn’t think that was just a coincidence, did you?

If MNPS is not properly spending or accounting for federal resources, they should be held accountable. But the accusations should be derived from existing transparently created documents that support the allegations. Not some half baked assumptions pulled from a collection of data still being compiled. Documents that in their completed form, should be used in a manner that protects the interests of kids, not in a manner that further the agenda of adults.

The truth matters. Being able to believe the words of our leaders is essential. At some point, the question has to be raised, does the Commissioner model behavior that we want to be emulated by the state’s children? Does the Governor? Not to be an ass, but currently, there is a whole lot of talk about christ around the statehouse, and a decided lack of Christian behavior. Somebody might want to work on that.

The Tennessee Department of Education currently is seeking submissions for a contract to construct a state-wide course on civics, one designed to help develop students into better citizens. It will ultimately be overseen by one person who has engaged in bully tactics – that report does exist – and another who suffers from the inability to separate fact from personal interest. That’s a scary proposition. Maybe I’m a bit of a square, but as a parent, while I aspire to be my children’s’ role model, I also want them to be able to look to the country’s leaders for evidence that doing the right thing matters. That leaders are people of character.

Based on his long history of working with those less fortunate than himself, I was under the impression the Governor felt the same way. I just haven’t seen a lot of evidence to support that assumption as of late.

Education doesn’t begin and end in the classroom. we are all works in progress and we all create the rules that govern our society. In order to create a society that works for all of us, it has to be rooted in truth and honesty. That starts with all of us and it shouldn’t be too much to ask that before we make accusations we make sure they rise to the challenge of meeting the burden of proof.

Conservative writer and Delaware State School board member Andy Smarick sums it up better than I,

When most leaders implicitly trust institutions and then work through them, the decisions of those institutions are generally understood as legitimate. But those institutions become even more trustworthy when their processes and outcomes are scrutinized and deemed to be fair. Said another way, good institutions aren’t merely trustworthy because they are reflexively trusted; they are trustworthy when they behave in ways worthy of trust.

QUICK HITS

Last night the MNPS School Board engaged in some discussion about the reopening of school buildings. It was reiterated that for that to happen, the district’s COVID-19 tracker would have to drop below 7. Today it rests at 7.7.

Even as the conversation around re-opening schools flares up in Nashville, it continues to grow nationwide as well. Lack of in-person learning is a challenge faced by all large urban districts. It’s a discussion that has wreaked havoc in communities and created division among former allies. Per an article in the Intelligencer,

On social media, everyone was an amateur epidemiologist. Commenters tore Fry apart, accusing her of misreading the data, underestimating the unknown menace of the virus. Some of the most vehement attacks came from commenters who identified themselves as teachers. “I couldn’t believe it,” Fry said. “I was arguing with teachers about the importance of education.”

The arguments got mean. The holdouts called reopeners selfish, lazy, and cavalier — willing to sacrifice lives for child care. “I still get called a granny killer,” says Maya Ziobro, a parent who supports reopening. “If we say anything about wanting our kids to return to school, we’re painted as Trumpers.”

“I’ve never been on the other side of the teachers union in my entire life,” Fry said. “I’m afraid of the long-term damage this is going to do between teachers and parents, because people think that their kids are suffering, and it makes it hard to sympathize with the union struggle.”

Much of what is outlined in the article is uncomfortably familiar to what’s happening in Nashville. Hopefully, some cooler heads will soon prevail and kids can safely return to school buildings. But the latter shouldn’t happen till the former is secured. No matter what side of the argument you find yourself on, I urge you to read the whole article. It’s long but well worth it.

Education writer, and professional educator, Peter Greene shares his list of education writers worthy of reading and it’s worth sharing. Yours truly is extremely proud to be included in his roll call.

TC Weber covers Tennessee thoroughly and with sharp wit and pithy quotes. “Nobody reads it. Everybody quotes it.”

Bookmark him and the rest of the list, you’ll be better for it.

Bill Lee may not like to talk to Tennessee reporters, but yesterday he set down with the Washington Examiner where he made the erroneous claim that only 2 districts in Tennessee remained all-virtual. Apparently, he doesn’t read his COVID tracker either. For the record, as of last week, 13 of Tennessee’s districts were still virtual. One in fact remains closed, Kingsport. Below is the list of those remaining remote, with the names of those local representatives who supported a bill forcing schools open in parenthesis.

Alvin C York Institute – state-run school
Bledsoe County
Cheatham (Littleton)
Claiborne
Davidson
Decatur (Haston)
Kingsport  – closed
Montgomery – (Reedy)
Richard City (Warner)
Shelby (White)
Sullivan (plan to return this week)
TN School for Blind – state-run school
TN State Board of Education – state-run schools
Washington (Tim Hicks and Rebecca Alexander)
Oh…and the Department of Education? As I was informed this morning on the phone…they are working remotely as well. When asked by the Examiner about how he was going to bring schools around that weren’t open for in-person instruction, Lee had this to say,

It is Nashville and Memphis. And we’re actually working on that issue right now. We had a special session last week that I called for our legislature to address learning loss and to address accountability, really testing, learning loss, how we’re going to address the challenges to education going forward. And when people were railing at me for opening schools because kids were going to die in the school buildings, and we did it anyway because the science didn’t indicate that, and certainly, it hasn’t happened.

So, we’ve been open in-person for the most part since school opened in August. And we are pushing the large districts to open as well because we think that’s really important. Pressure is a very important component here. That’s the reason I got up and really just called those school districts out publicly because here’s the thing: Parents want their kids to be at school. And the saddest part from my perspective is that Memphis is the biggest school district that we have. It also has the most number of low-income children who get the greatest negative impacts from being out of the classroom. I mean, these are the kids that have the least access to technology. They have the least resources, the family structures, oftentimes — they’re not there to support the needs of them. And so, these are the kids that are sitting at home, and the negative impacts on these children is staggering. Calling that out, publicly talking about why parents want their kids to be in school, has already begun.

Hmmmmm…fortunately Memphis is not rolling over for this egregious attack and have already mounted their counter-attack.

This is a good place to stop for today.

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