The Williamson County Board of Education voted late Tuesday to temporarily reinstate a mandate on masks for all students, staff, and visitors at the district’s elementary school following heated debate at a special session. While the school board meeting was contentious enough, tempers continued to flare outside the meeting as anti-mask protesters accosted and threatened those who’d called for the mandate to be reinstated amid the state’s surging number of pediatric Covid-19 cases. Video captured in the parking lot showed anti-mask protesters heckling those wearing face masks with threats that they will “find” them.
“We know who you are,” one anti-mask protester yelled in video shared over Twitter by journalist Matt Masters. “You can leave freely, but we will find you and we know who you are.”
Next to him, another protester shouted a similar message: “We know who you are. You will never be allowed in public again.”
Williamson County Schools condemned the aggressive confrontations that occurred after Tuesday’s meeting in a statement shared with Fox 17 News. “Our parents are passionate about their children’s education, and that’s one of the reasons for our district’s success over the years,” spokesperson Carol Birdsong said. “With that said, there’s no excuse for incivility.”
Birdsong said the district would continue to work to ensure all members of its community felt safe sharing their opinions. “Our families and staff represent a wide variety of thoughts and beliefs, and it is important in our district that all families and staff have the opportunity to be represented and respected,” she said
The mask mandate approved by the district on Tuesday will, from Aug. 12 to Sept. 21, require all elementary school students, staff, and visitors to wear face masks whenever they are inside school buildings or rising school buses. Teachers standing at least six feet away from students, however, may remove their masks, according to the mandate. What’s more, parents are also able to fill out forms opting their children out of the mandate.
The debate in Franklin over face masks in schools comes as pediatric Covid-19 cases surge across the state. Data released earlier this week by the Tennessee Department of Health showed children account for 27% of new daily confirmed Covid-19 cases in the state, Fox 17 reported. From July 25 to Aug. 8 alone, more than 6,700 school-aged children in Tennessee tested positive for Covid-19.
On Tuesday, medical professionals with children who attend Williamson County Schools implored the school board to follow the science on masks given the state’s recent rise in cases. “I’m afraid for the choice that they can’t make because the facts are clear,” NBC News reported Britt Maxwell, a parent who identified himself as a local doctor, said of his children’s inability to get vaccinated. “Kids are getting sick. It’s happening now. Pediatric ICU and ERs across the country, across the South, are being stretched to capacity in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri. And it will happen here eventually. It's a myth that kids can't pass to other kids, because they can.”
Jennifer King, a local parent who NBC reported identified herself as a pediatrician, stressed time was running out to limit the spread of Covid-19 among children in the district. "As a pediatric ICU physician, we are seeing more younger, previously healthy children admitted with respiratory failure and acute respiratory distress syndrome," she said. "This trend will only worsen if we don't act now."
But Franklin isn’t the only city to see debates about masks in schools get heated. Videos shared over Twitter from a Buncombe County Board of Education meeting held earlier this month showed anti-mask parents demanding a “re-vote” and attempting to overthrow the current board after it voted to continue its school mask mandate for the 2021-2022 school year.
Children under the age of 12 are currently ineligible to receive a Covid-19 vaccine and that multiple studies have shown widespread use of face masks is effective in reducing community transmission of airborne viruses like coronavirus. Both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics have recently recommended all children over the age of 2 wear masks in school.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here.