School mask mandate remains in place after Knox County Board of Education meeting

Education

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A special called meeting of the Knox County Board of Education was over before it even started Friday morning.

The meeting to discuss the mask policy in schools came about after Gov. Bill Lee’s announcement that ended the TN Pledge and other COVID-19 pandemic guidelines and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs’ ensuing decision to allow the county mask mandate to “sunset” this week.

With eight of the board members present, a vote to accept the agenda was split 4-4 with board member Evetty Satterfield unable to attend.

The board heard from the Knox County Law Department which noted Lee’s latest executive order.

Board member Daniel Watson asked whether Tennessee is still under a state of emergency order. The representative from the Law Department said the state is still under a “limited” state of emergency.

The Board of Education’s mask policy is still in place through May, the same time the governor’s order that allows county mayors to set their own mask mandates ends.

Gov. Lee requested the six counties with their own health departments, Knox, Davidson, Shelby, Hamilton, Sullivan and Madison, also end any mask mandate they have set. The governor’s remaining limited state of emergency order is set expire May 31.

Board member Jennifer Owen criticized the meeting noting everyone affected by the policy was in class. Twenty people signed up to speak during the public forum portion of the meeting but did not get to speak since the meeting was called to end without an approval of the agenda.

Board member Virginia Babb was also critical of the meeting.

The board is expected to take up the matter again during its next regular meeting on May 5.

Kristen Hancock, a mom of two Knox County students, was one of many parents at the Friday meeting, frustrated by the conclusion.

“I feel like the only reason this is still happening now is they’re just feeding an idea. They’re just satisfying people, and it’s easier to just keep doing what we’ve gotten in the habit of,” she said.

She also feels masks are a barrier to her children’s education and social development.

“My child should have the opportunity to do what’s best for him, or us parents, make that decision, what we feel is best for our children. If they don’t want to wear it, if it’s hindering their learning, then we should be able to make that choice now,” Hancock added.

Tanya Coats, Knox County Education Association president, is also frustrated, but for a different reason. She feels, with fewer than 20 remaining days of class, energy is being wasted on the mask debate.

“We, too, hate this mask,” Coats said. “We hate it. But, if it’s going to ensure that I’m not going to bring a virus to school and give it to my students, and my students are not going to carry it, bring it to me and I bring it to my family, then we’re going to continue to do that.”

She said most teachers in the district want to see the policy in place through the rest of the school year.

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