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A screenshot of a post made by Rep. Steve Tarvin over the weekend criticizing teachers and their reluctance to return to school amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Georgia state representative from Chickamauga is taking heat for comments he made on his personal Facebook page calling teachers "self-centered cry babies" who are nervous and cautious about going back to school as the coronavirus continues to spread.

Steve Tarvin, R-Chickamauga, represents District 2 in Georgia's House of Representatives.

In the original post, Tarvin asked his Facebook followers and friends, "Has any other essential industry put up a fight about working like teachers have?"

"I never saw groups of doctors, nurses, meat packers, truckers, grocery store workers stand up and say they won't work until there's a vaccine and to hell with our society," Tarvin wrote.

After a Facebook friend replied to Tarvin's original post saying schools are a "different animal" and that Tarvin might want to keep criticism of teachers to himself, Tarvin doubled down.

"I stand by my criticism of teachers nationally, they are self centered cry babies, too large a percentage having the best jobs they could possibly hold down yet they bitch," Tarvin said. "Many are tremendous, some of my greatest mentors are my teachers."

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A screenshot of a comment made by Rep. Steve Tarvin over the weekend criticizing teachers and their reluctance to return to school amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

After some backlash from the original post and comments, Tarvin deleted the post after he told a local TV station he was "not in the least bit concerned about [it]."

In a post on Sunday, Tarvin said he has "apologized in the most sincere way possible. Over and over."

"I can assure you I am a friend of teachers, students and all in education," he said. "I appreciate all of them. I don't always agree with them, but I am not their enemy. We all are concerned with this virus and my comments were not meant to shame teachers or anyone else concerning the virus."

Debbie Baker, president of the Walker County Association of Educators and a teacher at Fairyland Elementary, cited several organizations that have said now is not a safe time to return to school — the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the American Society of Anesthesiology and the National Education Association.

"They all agree that face-to-face instruction is optimal, but it needs to be safe," Baker said. "This is not that educators are lazy. Educators are terrified for their lives. It's backed by science, not politics or emotion."

The plan for schools to reopen in the fall has been at the center of the country's response to the coronavirus pandemic. Not opening schools on time will have a drastic affect on the country's economy. On the flip side, opening schools now can be dangerous, as COVID-19 has not gone away as many public health experts had hoped it would by this time in the year.

Several school districts in Northwest Georgia have released their plans for the fall. All of them include some version of online learning, but all have indicated they plan to reopen school in some capacity for kids to return.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has urged school districts to send kids to school, saying how important it is for their development and for the economy to have school as normal. On Monday, Gwinnett County Schools announced it would start school completely online. DeKalb County already had made a similar announcement.

Kemp also signed an executive order banning mask mandates created by local municipalities. Baker took that as a sign that school districts wouldn't be able to require kids to wear masks.

"We put out a survey a couple of weeks ago and a large percentage of parents said they would not have their kids wearing a mask. That terrifies us," Baker said. "We have cafeteria workers, bus drivers and other members of our staff that are older who are most vulnerable. A lot of them are quitting."

As it stands now, Walker County plans to start school on Aug. 13 with kids in school. Parents have the option to enroll their children in a virtual learning program, and they have to apply by July 24.

Several teachers have told Baker if the school district goes ahead with its plan to have students at school, they plan to quit out of fear the coronavirus will start to spread in the schools.

"We do feel for parents who have to work and don't have another option," Baker said. "[Some teachers] are hoping that a safer plan is offered."

In his apology post, Tarvin went on to say he takes full responsibility for his actions and that he brought the criticism on himself.

"While it was not intended to offend teachers about COVID, I did," he said.

He also said some of his comments were taken out of context after some comments from other people on the original post were deleted.

Tarvin, who is running unopposed in the general election in November, did not return a phone call Monday seeking comment.

Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.

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