Franklin County Schools Vote ‘No’ on Mask Mandate

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At a special called meeting Aug. 30, the Franklin County School Board voted down a motion by board member Sarah Liechty to require elementary-age students to wear masks as a COVID-19 preventative measure. The board voted in favor of adopting a Remote Instruction policy for quarantined students.

Introducing the discussion on masking, Liechty pointed to Tennessee Department of Health guidelines stating students wearing masks did not need to be quarantined following exposure and Aug. 25 statistics showing 36 percent of Tennessee COVID cases were children.

Board chair CleiJo Walker stressed the complications of a mask mandate. “Whose going to enforce this?…[If parents] opt out, whose going to notify the teachers?”

“I think masks probably work…[but] it just adds one more thing for teachers to do,” Linda Jones said.

“People in Franklin County don’t want to be told what to do with their kids,” Chris Guess said.

“For a measured amount of time, could we come together for the common good?” Leichty asked. She noted a Herald Chronicle survey reported 58 percent of those who responded supported masking in the schools.

Board member Lance Williams cited two school surveys showing staff and parents opposed masking: 70.3 percent at Huntland School and 51.1 percent at Rock Creek School.

“Should we ask principals to do a survey of parents?” Walker asked.

Huntland Principal Kenneth Bishop said the anonymous survey process at Huntland School did not distinguish between parents and staff.

Board member Sarah Marhevsky cited the high number of students with COVID, 234 in the first three weeks of this school year compared to 197 all of last year.

Board member Christine Hopkins observed Sewanee Elementary had no cases and Huntland had only one case. SES Principal Allison Dietz said SES was “smaller so it was easier for students to spread out.” Bishop said some students wore masks at Huntland and some did not. Masking is optional at both SES and Huntland.

Leichty said the school system website should give current statistics on COVID cases at each school so parents could make informed decisions about masking.

Director of Schools Stanley Bean said he was in favor of masking, but he did not think masking would make “a big change.” Bean emphasized the importance of encouraging principals and teachers to do a better job at maintaining social distancing.

Liechty’s motion called for temporarily requiring masking for elementary age students unless the parents opted out, to be reviewed the third week in October. Only Liechty and Marhevsky voted in favor of the motion.

Franklin County instructional supervisors wrote the Remote Instruction policy based on state guidelines. The state recently required school systems to have a Remote Instruction policy for quarantined students, Human Resources Supervisor Linda Foster said. The policy mandates six-and-a-half-hours per day of instruction.

Jones expressed concerns about proving the student received six-and-a-half-hours of instruction and the extra burden on teachers. Kim Tucker, Elementary Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction, explained the requirement did not mean face-to-face instruction, only that the student receive the work typically given in a six-and-a-half-hour day and that the student complete the assignments. The board approved the new policy with plans to review it pending advice from the Tennessee School Board Association.

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