State Department of Education plans on sharing COVID-19 school data

By , Daily Memphian Updated: September 01, 2020 6:01 PM CT | Published: September 01, 2020 5:57 PM CT
<strong>Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn visits with Shantial Harris, 6, as the student works with numbers at Libertas School of Memphis on Tuesday, Sept. 1. The state is expected to announce details Thursday about a plan to share COVID-19 school data, Schwinn said after visiting the school in the Frayser area.</strong> (Mark Weber/Daily Memphian)

Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn visits with Shantial Harris, 6, as the student works with numbers at Libertas School of Memphis on Tuesday, Sept. 1. The state is expected to announce details Thursday about a plan to share COVID-19 school data, Schwinn said after visiting the school in the Frayser area. (Mark Weber/Daily Memphian)

The state’s Department of Education is expected to announce details Thursday about a plan to share COVID-19 school data, Commissioner Penny Schwinn said during a visit at a Frayser-area school Tuesday.

Schwinn did not give many specifics on the plan but said Tennessee will be one of the first states to release COVID-19 case data associated with local schools.


Governor says he now wants to make school COVID figures public


Gov. Bill Lee’s administration stance on making COVID-19 school data public has changed in recent weeks. Originally, state officials said they couldn’t release the data because of federal health privacy laws and risks identifying children.

“We have been working for months to be able to get something out. We’ve been working at levels of government, including the federal government,” Schwinn said Tuesday.

Schwinn made the comments after visiting of Libertas School of Memphis in Frayser. She also defended her two-year tenure as commissioner with a potential no-confidence vote looming.


Education commissioner in danger of facing no-confidence vote


“As a Department of Education, we’ve been laser-focused on student achievement and making sure we push forward what is best for every single one of the 975,000 children who are in this state,” said Schwinn, who was appointed by Lee. “And we will continue to engage with all of our stakeholders, but especially with our legislative partners. I’ve been pretty grateful for the pretty robust support that I’ve received.”

Schwinn’s visit to Memphis comes as many area schools reopen and are offering in-person, virtual-only or hybrid learning options in the immediate future due to coronavirus. She will visit two Germantown schools – Houston Middle and Forest Hill Elementary – on Wednesday afternoon.

Libertas, at 3777 Edinburg Dr., offers both in-person and virtual learning options for students and families. About 40% of families chose the in-person learning option, while the remaining 60% are virtual only.

“There are children in our community whose families do not have a safe-at-home learning option from them all day, every day,” Bob Nardo, Libertas executive director and founder, said. “Those people love their children, but they either work a job where they can’t afford to miss work, because they can’t put food on the table or other factors make it to where kids can’t be at home all day.”


Montessori school making strides in North Memphis


<strong>A highlight of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn&rsquo;s visit to Libertas on Tuesday, Sept. 1, was milking a 3-year-old goat named Helena, with the aid of Libertas executive director and founder Bob Nardo. Libertas, which serves students from pre-K to fifth grade, is based on the Montessori learning method.</strong> (Mark Weber/Daily Memphian)

A highlight of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn’s visit to Libertas on Tuesday, Sept. 1, was milking a 3-year-old goat named Helena, with the aid of Libertas executive director and founder Bob Nardo. Libertas, which serves students from pre-K to fifth grade, is based on the Montessori learning method. (Mark Weber/Daily Memphian)

Libertas, which serves students from pre-K to fifth grade, is based on the Montessori learning method of having teachers work with small groups of multi-aged children helping them learn and visualize with the hands-on method vital to that mission.

“I’m especially excited to be able to visit in this context that we’re in, because it reinforces how important the concepts, the way in which children are instructed, the way in which they are thinking about education,” Schwinn said. “It reinforces all of those things in a time we need now more than ever.”

The Frayser school is not the sole Montessori school in the Memphis area, but is the only free, public charter of its kind statewide.

Anyone who enters Libertas must undergo a temperature check and symptom screening before entering the building.

Schwinn, along with Libertas’ board of directors, visited several classrooms observing students who were socially distant and wearing masks, both requirements of the school’s reopening plan. 

An unexpected highlight of Schwinn’s visit was milking a 3-year-old goat named Helena near the playground after concluding the classroom portion of the tour. Libertas has three goats on-site.

“It was great,” Schwinn said. “I’m from Sacramento, California. Otherwise known as ‘Cowtown, California’. It was nice. I love goats. It was super fun and my kids are going to be jealous and my team got a nice long video to share.”

Topics

Penny Schwinn Libertas School Bob Nardo Frayser coronavirus Tennessee Department of Education
Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf covers Binghampton, Frayser, North Memphis and Raleigh for The Daily Memphian. Omer previously covered county government. He is also a former reporter at The Jackson Sun and a University of Memphis graduate.


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