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Gov. Lee: Tennessee In Talks With Feds Over What It Can Say About COVID Outbreaks In Schools

TN Photo Service (File photo)


Two days after saying “no” to sharing information on school outbreaks, Gov. Bill Lee now says there could be a change.

Lee told reporters Thursday the state is in conversations with the federal government to figure out what Tennessee can report.

But, he says the state needs to be careful about identifying individual cases or breaking federal privacy laws.

“We need to think about this as parents and what we would like to have as parents,” Lee says.

Other states are already making this information public. North Carolina, for instance, publishes information on clusters in schools twice a week. That includes the names of schools that have reported five or more cases of COVID-19.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has also outlined a plan for disclosing cases in schools once in-person classes restart. Meanwhile, a bill has been filed in the Virginia General Assembly that would require the state’s health department to share the information.

Lee says he does want to be transparent, but he worries that violating federal privacy laws would put federal funds in jeopardy.

“Violating federal law is a problem for our state,” Lee says. “We don’t want to do that.”

Lee says his administration has reached out to the Tennessee Attorney General and the U.S. Department of Education to better understand what information can be shared.

But, as of right now, Tennessee will not be making school outbreak information public.

In the meantime, parents will have to rely on school districts to decide whether to provide the information.

Putnam County has created one of the most transparent dashboards in the state. It breaks down confirmed positive cases, as well as the number of students quarantined and in isolation by school.

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.