The new rules that the Tennessee school system is implementing to regulate the use of classroom furniture and textbooks come as Tennessee’s economy is reeling from a record number of school shootings, including a string of recent killings.
But the rules also came as educators and lawmakers in Tennessee have grappled with how to respond to what they view as a cultural clash with the new rules and the state’s new anti-bullying law.
“I hate these people who are coming into my school,” said a former elementary school teacher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the issue.
“They’re not welcome.
They’re not allowed in my school.
We need to stand up against them.
I don’t want them here.”
The new rule, which went into effect last week, requires that teachers use a hand-held device called a “bullying device” that includes a microphone, flashlights, a speaker and a speakerphone to listen to students.
The new devices can be carried in school bags or brought in from home and can be turned on by a teacher.
The device is designed to be a portable microphone, and students must be in class or in an adjacent classroom for at least two minutes.
“It is not acceptable to allow children to use their phones in school because it can cause distractions to other students,” the new rule says.
Teachers must notify students within 45 minutes of the use.
“If you’re not using your device in class, you may not talk about your experience with the device in any school related media,” the rule says, adding that the teacher must be notified if the device is turned on or off.
Teachers are also banned from bringing in a cellphone, computer, tablet or video game console that can be used for personal use for more than 15 minutes.
Students will have to wait at least 10 minutes between class and the use or be expelled.
The rules also prohibit students from taking class breaks and prohibit teachers from working while wearing earmuffs.
They also require teachers to wear headphones when in the classroom, which the rule states is “not allowed” except during recess.
The rule comes after the Tennessee legislature approved a bill in April to ban teachers from wearing ear muffs during class time, and it also followed a similar bill in Georgia.
Georgia’s bill, which was introduced in 2017, was defeated by a vote of just seven votes.
Tennessee’s new rules come as lawmakers in both states have grappling with how best to respond.
The bill to ban earmuff use in classrooms came as a result of a wave of school-related shootings, a spate of school closures and a high number of students being killed.
At least 19 people were killed in a shooting in April in the small town of Fayetteville, Georgia, which is home to Fayette County Schools, the state school system.
A gunman killed six people in a rampage at a movie theater in May, killing five people.
A similar attack at a school in May in North Carolina left 10 people dead and more than 100 injured.
Both states have seen an increase in school closures.
Tennessee closed more than 1,000 schools in 2018 and closed more schools in 2019.
The state has been under new school safety laws since 2018, but the state has yet to enact a law to ban all earmuffed use, according to the Tennessee Office of the Attorney General.
The legislation that passed the state House in April also included language to require teachers and staff to wear earmids at all times, and to report any incidents of earmuffle use to authorities.
In May, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed a bill to make teachers and school employees wear ear mufflers and to require them to report earmuffy use to the state Department of Education.
But that measure failed to advance in the Senate.
The Tennessee Education Association, which represents educators, said that while the new law is a step in the right direction, the legislation should not be seen as the first step toward banning earmills in Tennessee classrooms.
“This legislation does not go far enough in addressing the needs of teachers and other students and should not become the first priority of the state,” said TEA President and CEO Tim Stinson.
“Schools and schools should be places where learning is free, safe and inclusive, not places where students are forced to wear devices that can distract them.”
TEA is an organization representing more than 40,000 Tennessee teachers, principals, school administrators, administrators and school district employees.
In addition to Tennessee, the other states that have banned earmilling are Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia and Louisiana.