The school year began last week with masks being encouraged, not mandated, but two weeks in the masks will be back. Tipton County Schools has reinstated a mask mandate following a 7-1-1 vote at Thursday night’s school board meeting.
After reports from school health coordinator Sherrie Yarbro and Baptist-Tipton Administrator Parker Harris, who told board members there’s been a dramatic rise in cases and most of them in the 14-18-year-old range, school board member Steve Clark made a motion to mandate masks in schools until the board meets again on Sept. 9.
In April, Gov. Bill Lee declared COVID was no longer a state health emergency and removed the authority for county governments to implement mask mandates. Local school boards still have the authority, however.
Board member Farrel Vincent asked Harris about studies showing the effectiveness of masks in preventing the transmission of the virus and later asked Yarbro why the children whose parents wanted them to wear masks weren’t even to stop or slow it.
“You’ve still got germs coming out from the other kids,” Yarbro said.
Clark said a student who’d tested positive over the weekend attended nearly a full day of school on Monday before the health department notified the administration the test results. That helped spur his decision to bring it up at the meeting.
“Some people just don’t want to follow the rules,” he said. “If everyone followed the rules we wouldn’t have to do this. But they’re not doing it.”
Further he said if a child contracted COVID-19 in school and later died he wouldn’t be able to live with himself knowing the board’s mandate may have prevented it. Board member Grant Shipley also chimed in with a perspective aimed at Vincent, stating the masks help protect other people not the person wearing them.
“I think we should go with the recommendation of the health department and the CDC,” said board member Isaiah Davidson. “They’re the professionals. If you have a fire, the fire department is in charge. If you have a crime, the police department is in charge. If we have a pandemic, the experts should be in charge and we should act on their recommendations.”
“If wearing a mask keeps our students well, why not wear a mask?” Yarbro said. “If it doesn’t, we’ll revisit it again in September. We’re also encouraging vaccinations. We want to do whatever it takes to keep our buildings open and our students learning.”
Clark said the decision is difficult, but it’s the right thing to do.
“I didn’t choose to be on the board to make life and death decisions for other people’s kids,” he said. “I never thought I’d be in this position.”
Vincent voted against the mandate and Alvis Ferrell abstained, but the four other members voted in favor of the mandate.
The mandate will go into effect on Monday, Aug. 16.
Combs and Yarbro were meeting to finalize the verbiage of the mandate and other COVID-related measures, such as social distancing. Students will be expected to wear masks in school and on the bus when they cannot be 3-6 feet from another student.
Playgrounds will remain open.
There is not currently a mask requirement at sporting events unless the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association changes its policy.
The health department will be conducting contract tracing.
The decision to reinstate a mask mandate elicited anger from some in the community who believe parents should ultimately have the final say about their children wearing masks. A small group of parents protested at the board of education Friday morning and plan to return Monday.