Gov. Bill Lee recently called a special session of the state legislature to be held on Monday, August 10 — the first day of classes for Rutherford County and Murfreesboro City Schools. 

Expanding telehealth, protecting businesses from being held accountable by COVID-19 lawsuits and targeting peaceful demonstrators were expected to be on the agenda.

Tennessee needs state leadership that steps up.

When legislators passed the state budget on June 19, Tennessee reported the largest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases to date with 1,188 confirmed in one day and about 34,000 total. Since then, the state confirmed three days of over 3,000 confirmed cases and over 110,000 total. The rate of Tennessee children infected by COVID-19 had jumped 33 percent in 10 days. According to the Tennessee Health Department, every county in the state has unacceptable rates of transmission. 

As an educator and mother of a Rutherford County Schools student, I share the anxieties of many families and teachers wondering when their life will be put on hold by a classroom case of COVID-19. In my U.S. government class, I teach high school students how the government is supposed to work. Right now, it’s not.

If we want to save people’s lives and ensure that schools can resume safely, state leadership needs to enact a statewide mask mandate and provide essential pay to school employees.

No one is safe inside of the classroom if they are not safe outside of the classroom.

Scientific and medical experts across the country have provided strong evidence that wearing masks works. The World Health Organization, Center for Disease Control and the White House all recommend wearing masks. Gov. Lee is spending millions of taxpayer dollars to recommend wearing masks. 

It would cost zero dollars to require them but could save hundreds of lives. 

I commend Rutherford County and Murfreesboro City Schools for requiring masks for all students, visitors and school employees, but if a child goes to school with a mask on but visits a grocery store without one and attends football practice the next day, we will have a tornado of transmission. 

We cannot be willing to risk those who will attend school in-person. We cannot be willing to risk anyone’s lives. We must protect the public by requiring masks statewide.

Educators are on the frontline, but they have been left out to dry.

Some of the best teachers I know feel as though they have no choice but to retire early this school year. While young people may circulate COVID-19, teachers are the most at risk to suffer from the most life-threatening effects of a positive case. I have former colleagues who are writing wills.

The people who work for our schools don’t do it for the pay; people become teachers because of their passion for education. Though, with the months of learning from the last semester to catch up on, the challenge of preparing for virtual lessons, and the looming possibility of a classroom quarantine, educators are expected to cross every unprecedented hurdle with no financial protections. 

Too many teachers already work two jobs and still come out of pocket for school supplies. Educators are essential workers and deserve essential pay.

Considering the state is spending millions on an ad campaign, the special session will cost at least $119,000 in taxpayer money and $250 million was deposited into the rainy day fund just this year, Tennessee can afford policies like these.

They only need strong leadership to support them.

Supporting proposals in the best interests of our community will be my priority in the state legislature. As the representative for State House District 37, I will fight for our communities and work hard for hardworking families.

Mariah Phillips is an educator, businesswoman and working mom running for State House in District 37. 

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