The Franklin Special School District Board of Education unanimously approved a mask requirement inside all schools on Friday.
The requirement will take effect on Monday, Aug. 23, and will last through Sept. 21.
“I want you to trust us,” said board member Allena Bell to the crowd at the board’s special called meeting. “We followed protocol and did a lot of things that were not popular last year, and yet you trusted us in our decisions, and we trust our COVID team to be as thoughtful, as data-driven as they possibly can.”
As of Friday, FSSD reported 48 students and 11 staff members with a positive COVID-19 case in addition to 283 students and six staff members out of school as close contacts or for some other reason. FSSD Director of Schools Dr. David Snowden shared that the district started the year off well with a “masks optional” protocol, but circumstances quickly changed.
“The first five days of school this year went well as far as positive cases, but then the numbers began to significantly increase at the end of last week and the beginning of this week,” Snowden said. “Are the higher numbers of quarantines due to not having a mask requirement, or because of the more contagious nature of the current prevalent variant, or a combination of those and other variables? We cannot, I don’t believe, definitively answer that question.”
Snowden made his recommendation to require masks in all FSSD schools after 15 public speakers shared their stance on the issue (seven in favor of a mask mandate and eight against).
Brandi McCutchan shared that she “love[s] the flexibility” of having masks optional and said she will have her children opt out of any mask requirement the board may pass. Chris Boles, a local chiropractor, said implementing a mask mandate is “like asking healthy people to act like sick people,” of which he said he doesn’t approve. One parent, Katie Swafford, said she was against a mask mandate, saying that, among students, “masks are not being worn the way that adults wear them.”
Others shared their preference for a mask requirement. One father, Rodney Aslinger, spoke about his son, who had recently had a heart transplant, and another father, Lee Flatt, spoke about his son, who will soon have open heart surgery.
“This is a public school, which means for all students, and I’m asking you to protect my son,” Aslinger said.
Flatt said he wasn’t surprised that there were two parents in the room with children in this kind of extreme circumstance.
“It’s never just one, and even if it was, there’s really no number small enough to justify the level of harm that could come,” he said.
A Freedom Middle School eighth grade class representative, Allyson Duardo, also shared her support of a mask mandate.
“More than half of my history class is missing, and we’ve only been here for about two weeks,” she said. “COVID is winning, and we’re losing. We’re losing our chance to learn, to socialize, and to do what we want to do.”
All FSSD schools were open on Friday. Freedom Middle School had the highest absentee rate in the district at 15.3% absent, and Franklin Elementary School had the district’s lowest absentee rate at about 1.6%.
Snowden shared that, unlike last year, the Tennessee Board of Education is not allowing schools to transition to remote learning in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak, and he said that if a single school has to close, each day that single school is out will cut into the entire district’s seven allotted inclement weather days. The district will have to make up any days closed beyond those seven.
Snowden also shared that the state notified him that asymptomatic students properly wearing face masks do not need to be counted as close contacts in contact tracing.
Following public comment, board member Kevin Townsel shared that he has heard and listened to parents’ feedback in public comment and in emails, and he believes that wearing a mask is important to protect others.
“I hear you. I understand why you’re passionate, but I’m also passionate for your kids as well,” he said. “We care enough to do what isn’t fun, but it’s necessary.”
The unanimous vote took place four days after the governor signed an executive order to allow parents to opt their children out of any school mask requirement with written notice to the school. Snowden shared that, while Metro Nashville Public Schools and Shelby County Public Schools are not complying with the governor’s order, he believes complying is “the appropriate thing to do.” He said further instruction regarding the requirement will be emailed to families Friday night.
For more information, visit www.FSSD.org.