School board’s mask mandate vote leaves Knox County parent feeling unheard

Education

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Cecily Fischmann had three minutes to share her family’s story Wednesday night with the Knox County Schools Board of Education. It includes her two children at home last week, in quarantine, after a possible exposure to COVID-19.

It was a particularly scary situation for Fischmann’s family, given her husband’s ongoing battle with cancer. Their two children returned to school this week, following a negative test result.

Fischmann asked the board to implement a mask requirement, better contact tracing, and improved case reporting in the schools, as well as quarantine protocols that are less disruptive to the many students experiencing time away from the classroom. She says she entered the meeting feeling hopeful and left heartbroken.

“It feels like my voice does not matter. My children, they don’t matter to the school board,” Fischmann said.

The mask vote failed, 5-4. Board member Kristi Kristy argued students aren’t required to wear masks in many places outside school, including many churches and other events, such as sleepovers. She also noted it would be difficult to maintain who has filled out appropriate paperwork to “opt-out” of a mandate, something all parents in Tennessee would be eligible for under a recent executive order by Gov. Bill Lee.

“Who is going to be in charge of keeping track of who has to have a mask on? who doesn’t have to have a mask on? Heaven help the (substitute teachers) if somebody takes off a mask that should have one on,” Kristy said.

Board member Patti Bounds also argued against a mandate.

“We are being asked to force people to opt out when already people can opt in. We keep coming at this from every possible angle, in my opinion, to get a mask mandate. What I see it doing is further dividing our community and its keeping parents in a state of anxiety,” Bounds said.

While Fischmann was excited to see the board vote to reinstate the school based COVID-19 dashboard, she’s anxious to see a final product. District officials are set to coordinate with the Knox County Law Department to determine what data is appropriate for public release.

She also left feeling dissatisfied with the protocol surrounding quarantine. While students who complete their work can now be counted present, Cecily feels a lack of a virtual learning component to their time at home impacts both students and their parents.

“It is so far gone from what we really expect from a virtual learning experience that I don’t see that as a quarantine response at all,” Fischmann said.

“I have had such anxiety when I started bringing my children back to school this Tuesday. After they returned from quarantine, (I am) wondering am I sending them into the lion’s den? Are they going to come home with COVID?”

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