Two Small Groups Will Help Make Major Decisions on Opening Up Businesses and Schools: Who Are They?

Joint Meeting of the County Commission and School Board, City County Building, Knoxville, September 2019

Control Over Re-Opening Businesses is Turned Over to the Board of Health

When the surprise announcement was made last Friday that future decisions regarding the path forward for businesses and citizens in the county would be shifted from Dr. Martha Buchanan with the Knox County Health Department to the Knox County Board of Health, many of us were curious about a board we’d never thought to consider and some of us were confused: Isn’t that the same thing as the Health Department?

I asked a few questions and was directed to this website, which lists the members. A familiar name is listed at the top: Dr. Martha Buchanan is an Ex Officio member. The County Mayor, by virtue of his office is a member, as is, perhaps a bit more oddly, Bob Thomas, Superintendent of Schools. The other members are medical professionals of one sort or another:

  • Dianna C. Drake, PharmD
    President, District 2Tennessee Valley Pharmacists Association
  • Maria C. Hurt, DNP, MSN, FNP-BC
    Clinical Assistant Professor, The University of Tennessee College of Nursing
  • Jack E. Gotcher, Jr., DMD, PhD
    University Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons
    Professor, The Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, The University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine
  • Patrick O’Brien, MDCol, USAF, MC, FS
    Chief Medical Review Officer, Drug Demand Reduction Program, National Guard Bureau
  • James E. Shamiyeh, MD, MBA, MSPH, FCCP
    Senior Vice-President and Chief Quality Officer, University Health System, Inc.
  • Marcy J. Souza, DVM, MPH, MPPA, DABVP (Avian),
    Associate Professor and Director of Veterinary Public Health
    Department of Biomedical and Diagnostic Sciences, The University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine

So, while there are no epidemiologists, virologists, or even economists, they are, outside of Mayor Jacobs and Bob Thomas, medical professionals of one sort or another, though it is hard to take the leap from some of their specialties to our current situation. The group normally meets quarterly, but will meet via zoom Wednesday evening from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm to determine Knox County’s path forward. The meeting will be held via Zoom and is available for viewing via community TV and here. You’ll find the full agenda here.

With the Law Director’s ruling that the Board of Health must determine re-opening plans, several questions are raised: Is there a reason for the task force that was assembled to deal with the reopening or will they be rendered useless? If facts regarding the virus change, how quickly can the Board, which has been uninvolved to this point, change direction? Was this shift simply a result of the Law Director suddenly having an insight as to how the re-opening should be handled, or is something else going on? We’ll learn more starting tomorrow.

Joint Meeting of the County Commission and School Board, City County Building, Knoxville, September 2019

Knox County Schools Names a Task Force to Examine School Re-opening

Another group which will soon have a large influence over many area residents’ lives and children is the new task force set up by the Board of Education to take the data from the community survey and to provide feedback to the board. Each board member nominated a person from his or her district to be a part of the task force.

The members are:

  • District 1: Rev. Sam Brown, Pastor at Logan Temple
  • District 2: Joan Grim, University of Tennessee Theory & Practice in Teacher Education
  • District 3: Melanie Craig, PTSO Board Member
  • District 4: Jonathon Fortner, President of Sequoyah Elementary Foundation
  • District 5: Susie Carr, KCS Parent and PTSO Board Member
  • District 6: Michelle Pickler, Community and School Volunteer
  • District 7: Rob Cummings, KCS Parent and School Administrator
  • District 8: Steve Hunley, Publisher and Local Business Owner
  • District 9: Brannan Gillenwater, KCS Parent and Local Business Owner

The committee will report to the Knox County Board of Education, which will make the final decision as to how to proceed. As you can see in the comments at that link, and as you’ve seen on social media, if you are connected to teachers and parents, there have been, to say the least, concerns expressed about the committee.

Notably, there are no educators, students. There are also no other workers such as janitorial staff and food service workers would know what is practical for them to do as they will likely be asked to do their jobs very differently. Additionally, there are no medical professionals, such as a representative from the Health Department, an epidemiologist or other scientists.

While many of the members are, without doubt, fine members of the community, the omissions are difficult to understand, though the system has indicated there are working “focus” groups which include teachers and other school personnel. One of the members, Steve Hunley, however, brings some baggage. He is the publisher of the Knoxville Focus and has called teachers a “bully brigade,” while expressing support for school vouchers. Most recently, he has called the News Sentinel the “Antifa Daily” and refers to COVID-19 as the China Virus.

The function of the committee seems strange, as well. They are to review the data from the survey and provide feedback to the board. It seems like an unnecessary step. Can’t someone from within the school system with data analysis skills present the data to the Board for them to assimilate as they make their decisions? I’m unclear how having an outside committee serves a purpose.

In the end, whomever has input, the decision comes down to three possibilities, including not having students return to schools in the fall, having them return in some modified fashion or having them return as normal. There really isn’t an option beyond that, though there would be decisions to be made regarding how a hybrid model would look.

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