Can Bob Thomas survive the pandemic?

Sandra ClarkOpinion

Even if you don’t get sick, Covid-19 is a career killer. I don’t see how Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas survives the bungled start of school this fall.

With pressure from the governor and county mayor, Thomas caved. He misstated state guidelines on virtual learning. He apparently refuses to release school-specific counts on staff and student absences (and illness). And, of course, he chose to disregard Dr. Martha Buchanan’s mask mandate for back-to-school, instead, asking for repeated votes by the Board of Education and advice from the county law director.

But a funny thing happened when school began. Parents started talking to each other on social media – outside of the school system’s massive (and inadequate) communications setup. Just look at Facebook. There’s a group called Parents Against Covid. About half of the county’s middle and elementary schools have parent groups that share information about school absences. There’s a Google form for parental contact tracing.

One mom from Shannondale got coverage from WVLT after standing in the street during drop-off and pick-up with a sign reading “My child has Covid.”

WBIR-TV has a comprehensive report on the increasing Covid cases here.

WATE-TV reports over 8,600 absences on Thursday.

Other reports have parents pulling their kids for homeschooling. It’s a mess and there’s every indication that things will get worse.

The school board has split 5-4 on most mask and Covid votes, the majority narrowly rejecting the CDC guidelines for reopening schools. So, we have the University of Tennessee and Pellissippi State Community College mandating masks in classrooms, even though their students are older than 12, thus eligible for a free vaccination. While Knox County Schools, where a majority of students are not old enough for a vaccination, is making masks optional.

There’s an election for five school board members in 2022:

  • District 1 – Evetty Satterfield
  • District 4 – Virginia Babb
  • District 6 – Betsy Henderson
  • District 7 – Patti Bounds
  • District 9 – Kristi Kristy

On the most recent vote, Satterfield and Babb voted in favor of following CDC and state Department of Health guidelines for Covid. Henderson, Bounds and Kristy did not. Bounds has said she is not running for re-election.

There has been no outcry for Thomas to resign or be fired, as was the case with his predecessor, Dr. Jim McIntyre. But when teachers organized to run for the school board and surged to a majority in 2014 with the elections of Patti Bounds, Amber Rountree and Terry Hill, McIntyre stepped aside.

If the virus surges in 2021, causing staff and student absences, look for the parent activists who are organizing against Covid to field candidates in 2022.

One parent posted: “I’m glad that district level reports are coming, but that is the absolute, absolute minimum. As far as I can tell, we are about the only school district in the union that hasn’t been tracing and reporting. Such abject irresponsibility is inexcusable.

“And then the governor gives his carefully crafted speech about how he wants to empower parents? I have never felt less empowered. Never felt more ignored. Never been more embarrassed by my state or my school system.”


Nashville was flooded over the past weekend following heavy rains. Gov. Bill Lee called a press conference with TEMA on Sunday. I expected him to announce that rowboats will be available for those flooded, but on a strictly voluntary basis. In the background, personal liberty advocates chanted: “Hell no, we won’t row.”

Flora W. Tydings said Gov. Bill Haslam hired her as chancellor of the TN Board of Regents, even though she expected the interview to be rocky. Her doctorate is from the University of Georgia. Being proactive, she brought it up: “Well, there’s this Georgia thing,” she mentioned (paraphrased). “That’s OK,” said Haslam. “We have this 12-step program.” So, Tydings was hired and has started working the steps. “I’m up to liking Orange,” she said.

Charlie Kirk spoke to the Lincoln Day Dinner here on Friday and by Sunday he was soliciting donations from those who had bought tickets. So, who gave or sold the personal data of contributors to Kirk? This ain’t your grandpa’s GOP.

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today.

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