AP file photo by Mike Stewart / A pro-mask demonstrator holds a sign at the Cobb County School Board Headquarters on Aug. 12, in Marietta, Georgia. Tennessee leads the country in school closures due to COVID-19, and Georgia is No. 2.

Now we know what the "opt out" mask mandate has done for Tennessee.

We are No. 1 again — No. 1 in the country for COVID-19 school closures.

Wowwie zowwie, Volunteer State parents! Send Gov. Bill Lee a great big Tennessee Thank You!

Just look at the headlines from just the past four days.

> "Tennessee leads nation in COVID-19 school closures this school year, CDC study finds."

Parents, teachers and students may have guessed that already, seeing as how more than 400 schools have closed for at least one day since classes began in mid-August.

And, yes, Tennessee also leads the nation — still — in new COVID-19 cases per capita. Yet Gov. Bill "opt-out" Lee continues to insist that school districts negate their mask mandates by allowing parents to opt-out their children from masking up. He told reporters Thursday he will extend his executive order to override local school districts' mandates despite federal court rulings that have blocked his policy in three counties.

Three other Southern states — Georgia, Kentucky and Texas — were also among the top four states with the highest number of school closures.


> "Hamilton County student survives rare syndrome linked to COVID-19"

This Page 1 Sunday story in the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported the ordeal of 10-year-old Elijah Berestecky and his family after he bested COVID-19 with mild symptoms but weeks later was admitted to Children's Hospital at Erlanger with multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, known as MIS-C, a rare but serious condition that affects mostly school-age children and is associated with recent COVID-19 infection. Like hundreds of other children in Hamilton County public schools, Elijah caught the virus soon after classes resumed for the new academic year on Aug. 12.

Elijah is better now, thanks to his mom's perseverance in chronicling his evolving symptoms and pestering doctors, but she told the TFP she's most frustrated by the school district's safety decisions, including the face mask "opt out" policy.

"They [Hamilton County Schools officials] are just too afraid to create conflict for the sake of protecting children," Berestecky said. "This is literally a consequence of an inaction."

In that same story, Dr. Jeffery Bennett, a pediatric hospitalist at Children's Hospital, told our reporter that a surge in childhood COVID-19 cases corresponding with a return to school, fewer safety protocols and the more contagious delta variant has led to the highest volume of MIS-C cases at Erlanger.

Certainly, vaccines are more effective than masks, but we mustn't forget that children under 12 are not yet eligible to receive vaccines, and our state no longer makes vaccine outreach to students after lawmakers threatened to defund the health department over posters bringing awareness to the vaccines for teens.


> "COVID-19 deaths of Tennessee public school employees climb."

That was another headline Sunday, placed over a Tennessee Lookout story in the Times Free Press:

In total, 21 Tennessee public school employees have died since the 2021 academic year got underway after contracting COVID-19. Several employees – bus drivers, teachers, teachers' aides and a cafeteria worker — died in August during the first month of school. Fourteen employees died in September, the Lookout confirmed through colleagues, family members and media reports.


> "Pandemic set Southeast Tennessee school districts back in learning."

That was a Monday headline that should surprise no one.

The story reads: "Tennessee Valley school districts averaged 25% proficiency on spring 2021 standardized tests, down from 33% in 2019, according to data from the Tennessee Department of Education's Report Card released last week."

Gosh — no wonder scores are dropping. Schools are closing right and left due to illness and Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn has forbidden districts from holding online classes this year.

She has invited schools and some classrooms to seek waivers from the virtual learning ban, but not entire school districts.

That means when schools close because of illness, as Hamilton County had to for several days around Labor Day, it's just like a snow day and there is no learning going on.

Let's hear it for Gov. Lee, his education commissioner and our lawmakers.

They didn't create COVID-19, they've just made it much more devastating to our educational system and our children.

In the service of conservatism, they've opted us out of schooling our children.