The Lee administration might change course again on whether to release information about COVID-19 cases in Tennessee’s public schools.
On Tuesday, Gov. Bill Lee and other state officials said federal privacy laws prevent the state from reporting confirmed cases by school or school district.
But Lee said Thursday the state has reached out to the federal government, including U.S. Department of Education officials, to find out what information it can share.
“From the beginning I’ve said we want to be as transparent as possible. I’ve also said we have the responsibility to provide privacy and stay within the confines of federal law,” Lee said during a news briefing Thursday.
“We have continued to work with our legal counsel, with federal government, with HIPAA, with the (U.S.) Department of Education for clarity and to see what more we could do.”
PREVIOUSLY: Tennessee refuses to release information about COVID-19 cases in schools
Currently, the Tennessee Department of Education is releasing school closures via an online dashboard that also tracks the method of instruction, such as in-person or online, that public school districts are using.
The Tennessee Department of Health has also started releasing the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases among children aged 5-18 in each county daily, but has maintained that federal privacy laws prevent further information from being released.
Lee has moved back and forth on the issue since he first released state guidance for reopening schools on July 28. At that time, the governor’s cabinet members said they did not intend to collect or track information on COVID-19 cases in schools.
On Aug. 4, Lee said the administration was working to create a plan for releasing the information, before he again declined to release the information on Aug. 18.
RELATED: How should districts notify parents about confirmed COVID-19 cases in their child’s school?
More than 150 confirmed COVID-19 cases among students and teachers have been reported since schools began to reopen this month. The information school districts release about cases varies widely — some districts have launched their own public dashboards while others won’t identify the school where a case has been confirmed.
Other states such as North Carolina are already releasing information on confirmed cases or clusters of cases in public schools. Indiana, Kentucky and South Carolina officials have also committed to launching dashboards this fall.
The latest news on whether release the info was met with quick criticism from at least one Democratic state lawmaker.
State Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, dubbed Lee’s team “the tumbleweed administration” in a post on Twitter after the governor’s briefing Thursday afternoon.
“Wait what!? They’re flipping again!?” Clemmons wrote. “Whichever way the wind blows…on any given day. It would be amusing if it wasn’t so serious and devastatingly bad for TN families.”
BY THE NUMBERS: Search for COVID-19 cases in Tennessee schools with our database
Want to read more stories like this? A subscription to one of our Tennessee publications gets you unlimited access to all the latest news and the ability to tap into stories, photos and videos from throughout the USA TODAY Network’s 261 daily sites.
Meghan Mangrum covers education in Nashville for the USA TODAY NETWORK — Tennessee. Contact her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.