The meeting took place Tuesday night in Williamson County, three days after the school year began last Friday. After a nearly four-hour debate on the district’s mask policy, the Williamson County School Board voted 7-3 to pass a temporary mask mandate for elementary school students, staff, and visitors, WKRN reported. The mandate begins Aug. 12 and is to be enforced until Sept. 21; a vote on whether or not to extend it will take place Sept. 20. Under the mandate, masks will be required when inside all elementary schools and on buses. Religious and medical exemptions are allowed.
While the meeting was well-attended, only 30 people were allowed to speak publicly to the board. Parents who did not fit inside the auditorium stayed outside the meeting with signs and shouting “no more masks” during what turned into a heated protest.
According to the Tennessean, at least one person was escorted out of the meeting as dozens of anti-maskers disrupted the proceedings.
“The real part of the clown show is that you all think you actually have the authority to mandate this. Because there are these books that I have, and I have them as a gift for you, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers. Also the Bible. And these guarantee my freedom and yours and our children’s to breathe oxygen,” a parent said, according to WKRN.
But not all parents were against the mandate. Some expressed concern and applauded the board for standing by its decision, despite the violence some parents were threatening.
“The delta variant will spread in our schools like wildfire. There is risk to children. We are seeing it already in our country and in our state,” a parent said.
According to The Washington Post, more than one-third of American children will begin a new school year by the end of this week. While anti-maskers are making headlines nationwide for opposing mask mandates, studies have found a majority of parents across the country actually favor masks in schools.
The decision to enforce masks comes as a current surge takes place in the state, with children being an increasing concern for health officials given that they are ineligible for vaccines if under the age of 12. Nationwide, more and more children are being admitted into hospitals with cases of COVID-19.
According to data compiled by the state, in the first week of August, more than 4,000 cases of COVID-19 were reported in children, making up 21% of cases in Tennessee. By enforcing mask usage, public health professionals are looking out for the safety of individuals, especially children who are more vulnerable in these school spaces where social distancing is not always an option.
Instead of threatening them, we should be thanking them for taking time to educate us on the safety and importance of public health. Too many health professionals are being threatened with violence for doing their jobs.
The county board will revisit the mask discussion at next month’s board meeting. The mandate in question does not apply to Williamson County middle and high schools.