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UPDATE 08-17-20, 20:10 EDT — The Tennessee Department of Education withdrew its plan for “wellbeing checks” after an uproar from residents and local legislators, according to The Center Square. One legislator insisted thathe Department of Education is “correcting the mistake.” Commissioner Penny Schwinn of the department said, “To be perfectly honest, the language was something that we all missed. We’ve updated the language for its actual intent, but there is … no big brother.”
NASHVILLE, August 17, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Parents across Tennessee are concerned about the state government’s announcement that it will be conducting “wellbeing checks” for every minor in the state, to gauge the impact of the COVID-19 status quo on children.
Led by Tennessee education commissioner Penny Schwinn, the COVID-19 Child Wellbeing Task Force is tasked with “ensur[ing] the needs of children are being met during and after extended periods of time away from school due to the coronavirus pandemic,” Fox 17 reports.
An August 11 document issued by the Tennessee Department of Education (since deleted but archived here) states as the initiative’s goal: “ALL Tennessee children will receive a wellbeing check,” from “birth to age 18” (emphasis in the original).
The document claims that these checks should “never” be “forced or mandated” and can be satisfied with as little as an email survey or phone call. “Never force an individual to respond and always ensure they know … this is optional,” it says.
However, other language calls into question just how easy it will be for families to exercise that option. A “triage” table suggests that those administering the checks start with an email linking to the survey, but “if a survey is not completed, then call the household,” and “if a phone call is not responded to, then conduct a visit at school or at home.”
The Department of Education’s deletion of the document appears to be in response to public backlash, but it is not yet clear whether the department is revising or scrapping the plan. LifeSiteNews has reached out to Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s office but did not hear back by press time.
“It’s a horrendous overreach by government,” Republican state rep. Bruce Griffey told PJ Media. “Normally I’d see something like this from the Chinese government or Google collecting this kind of data on you and it’s just crazy[.] … My email is blowing up today and I haven’t responded yet because I’ve been in touch with fellow legislators who are working through it with the Department of Education and I’m hoping to get answers soon.”
Tennessee, which has seen 130,458 total COVID-19 cases and 1,326 deaths (out of a population of 6.8 million) remains in a state of emergency, which (among other provisions) limits most public gatherings to 50 people and encourages public mask-wearing and working from home. Around 100 Tennessee schools reopened in person last week, but several shut down again following 97 new cases of the virus reportedly connected to those schools.
Many have argued that children’s welfare would be better served by reopening society and restoring a sense of normalcy to their lives, particularly in light of evidence pointing to the safety of schools and the mental dangers of social isolation.
This week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a survey finding that 41% of Americans report suffering mental health challenges related to COVID-19, such as anxiety, depression, and drug use, and that 25% of young people reported contemplating suicide at least once in the past month.