Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association, has officially notified Tennessee State Board of Education of its opposition to blanket waivers for duty free lunch with a letter to Board Chair Lillian Hartgrove.

Tennessee school systems are seeking hundreds of waivers from state mandates.

The letter written by executive director JC Bowman stated, “Tennessee teachers count on their duty-free lunch, not only to eat their meal, but to return personal phone calls and check on their own children and family members who are also impacted by COVID-19. It is also usually the only time in a day that a teacher can use the restroom.”

He added, “We understand that educators must apply common sense and be flexible. However, professional educators should not always have their rights trampled as the first resort in resolving an issue.”

The letter succinctly laid out the reason the association opposes a blanket duty-free lunch waiver, and pointed out that not all schools located within a district requesting a waiver require a waiver. Any district requesting a waiver should identify which specific schools cannot meet the social distancing requirement if, in fact, that is the reason the request is being made.

“We understand the importance of social distancing, but also understand it is not limited to lunch time activities,” Bowman stated. “Nevertheless, with staggered schedules and/or the use of other locations such as libraries, gyms, or music/band rooms within the school, this can likely be accomplished leaving duty free lunch intact, or at a minimum partially intact.”

In addition, reasonable efforts of a school district to use nonteaching personnel or the assistance of community volunteers to supervise students during lunch in multiple locations could also be considered, according to Bowman. Schools could also consider expanded lunch schedules and shorter lunch breaks.

Bowman added, “If the State Board does grant a waiver for duty free lunch, we respectfully request that each district justify that request with more detail on a school-by-school basis within a district and for that information be made public.”

The letter concluded with, “We object to a blanket waiver being issued to every single district that has requested it, without knowing the need of each.”