Tennessee Teachers Hold Mock Funeral Over School Return Plans: 'Dead Students Can't Learn'

A group of teachers in Tennessee have held a mock funeral procession in protest at the plans for schools to return in the state amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Metro Nashville Education Association (MNEA) organized what they called a "Die In Vigil" at the Nashville Farmers' Market on July 27.

In a statement, the MNEA said that while they are grateful that Metro Nashville Public Schools have provided "sound judgment" and allowed the next school term to start virtually, they are "dismayed at the lack of state leadership to keep students, educators, and our families safe" in the rest of Tennessee.

"We refuse to sit by idly while our colleagues in other districts prepare for the school year by making wills and writing farewell letters to their loved ones. This is completely unacceptable, cruel, and insane," the MNEA said while promoting the protest under the name "Dead students can't learn. Dead teachers can't teach."

The procession involving several cars driving past the home of Gov. Bill Lee in order to highlight their concerns.

Speaking at the demonstration, Amanda Kail, President of MNEA, told WTVF that teachers would only feel safe returning to work if all classes are online until there have been 14 days with no new COVID-19 cases.

Kail also called for Personal protective equipment (PPE) for faculty members and students if they are to return to the classroom, reiterating that she has "talked to teachers who are updating their wills."

"Everyone is talking like we have to go back and there are no other options," said Kail. "We can go back online, and we can do this safely."

Emily Stolz, a teacher at Paragon Mills Elementary School, added: "Online we still have the opportunity to build relationships and cultivate that opportunity for learning.

"If our children are sick, and if our teachers are sick, there is not that opportunity."
Governor Lee has been contacted for comment.

A similar "die-in" protest was arranged in Memphis, Tennessee, as teachers objected to the return to school, reported Fox 13.

However, Shelby County School Superintendent Joris Ray confirmed that all teachers will now have the option to hold classes virtually if they met a certain criteria.

"We are excited about that. That was the right decision for the safety of all students, staff, teachers, everybody in the district" said Jolie Madihalli of the Memphis Shelby County Education Association.

The protest in Nashville arrived as Governor Lee announced a series of recommendations on how to reopen schools for the 2020-2021 school year.

"Providing parents a choice in their children's education is incredibly important," Lee said in a statement. "In-person learning is the medically sound, preferred option.

"Our state is doing everything we can to work with local school districts and ensure that in-person learning is made available in a way that protects the health and safety of our students and educators, and this plan helps us accomplish that goal."

Writing for Newsweek, Kathy Durham, a long-time teacher at West Wendover High in Nevada, described how she has decided to write a will after President Donald Trump declared this month that "we have to get our schools open and stop this political nonsense."

"That's when I realized I was going to have to go back to work and be a front line worker like the people working at the store," Durham said. "I am going to be at risk, and while I can do everything possible to stay safe, I have no guarantees and I just wanted to be prepared.

"My hope is that we stay well, that we get a vaccine and that this virus goes away.

She added: "My fear is that things are going to get much worse. But it's like my husband says; all I can do is try and do the right things. Beyond that, there but for the grace of God go I."

A protester holds a sign in the shape of a grave stone while driving past the Tennessee governor's residence during a protest against the reopening of schools on July 27, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. Educators and supporters are protesting schools restarting amid the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis across the state. Brett Carlsen/Getty

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