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In Transparency Reversal, Gov. Lee Says Tennessee Will Report Coronavirus Outbreaks In Schools

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán / WPLN News

Not only will Tennessee now track the cases of COVID-19 in schools across the state, but it is expected to make the information public.

The latest transparency reversal from Gov. Bill Lee’s administration was announced Tuesday.

Lee told reporters the state is working on a plan to make the information public while protecting the privacy of teachers and students. The details, however, are still unclear.

“We will give you a plan within a week of what information it is that we are going to provide, with the intent of being more transparent so that communities know what’s happening in schools with regard to COVID,” Lee said.

Last week, Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey told reporters the state was not going to make this information available and that schools “can choose to disclose that if the want.”

“I think it’s highly implausible that in the age of communication and information-sharing that we have that it would be a secret if any case comes in a school,” Piercey said at the time.

And, even hours before Lee announced the reversal on Tuesday, the Tennessee Department of Education defended the decision in an email to WPLN News.

“The Department of Education is not collecting data regarding COVID-19 cases,” the Department of Education said in an email. “To comply with privacy laws, districts must be cautious to not release personally identifiable information regarding COVID-19 cases when it is not necessary to protect the immediate health and safety of students and staff.”

When asked about the conflicting positions, Lee said the policy change has not been made official and it has yet to be spelled out.

“We haven’t communicated that with every department because we haven’t created that policy change but we are working on that right now,” Lee said.

This is the third time his administration has changed its position on sharing data during the pandemic.

In March, the administration refused to share county-wide data regarding deaths due to COVID-19. It later reversed itself.

The administration also decided to make information regarding nursing homes available to the public after receiving pushback from the public and the media.

Lee says the state moves towards transparency every time it can.

This story was reported by WPLN

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.