Image Credit: Collierville Schools / Facebook
The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes] –
The Collierville School Board held a special meeting Sunday night with less than three hours notice to discuss their response to the Omicron variant. No livestream option was made available.
Eighty nine employees district wide were either exposed to COVID-19 (forty-seven in all) or tested positive (forty-two total) over the holidays creating uncertainty over the district’s ability to staff schools this week. Sixteen of those employees work at Collierville High School, and eight at Bailey Station Elementary. All ten schools in the district are affected. There are 60 substitute teachers that could possibly cover.
Superintendent Dr. Gary Lilly said, “My biggest fear is that we won’t have enough people to staff the schools.”
A concerned Tennessee Conservative reader reported that, “Teachers are up in arms, parents are up in arms. Parents were not allowed to comment at last night’s meeting and even though only 2 ½ hours notice was given, 20 parents showed up.”
Chairman of the Collierville School Board, Wright Cox, announced last night during the meeting that he favored putting everybody, students and teachers alike, back in masks. He told everyone present that he had been fully vaccinated, had been wearing his mask and still got COVID.
School board member Michelle Gibbs also advocated for putting everyone back in masks, with an emotional appeal because she has lost a loved one to the virus.
School board member Wanda Chisholm made a point of encouraging everyone to get vaccinated but pointed out that they have been masking for two years and it hasn’t made a difference.
The remaining two school board members held that while they favored masking personally, they felt it should be left to parents.
Dr. Gary Lilly wanted to require masking for all but did not get the support from the school board that he was hoping for.
The school district’s Attorney proposed that the board had the latitude to do whatever they felt was appropriate because of the federal injunction against the current Tennessee law that prohibits requiring that school children be masked.
At one point, the parents who had braved Sunday’s potentially severe weather to attend the meeting raised their voices in opposition to masking and were told in no uncertain terms that the board would not be receiving public comments.
In the end, the board chose to require all administrators, faculty, staff and adult visitors to wear masks during school hours regardless of vaccination status. This is in light of the fact that fifty percent of the employees who either were exposed or tested positive have been vaccinated. Masks will remain optional, but strongly encouraged, for students.
Collierville is not the only district grappling with their response in the face of a new variant. The Germantown school board voted on Friday to once again require students to be masked when they return to school, joining Shelby county. Some of the areas private schools are also requiring masks.
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Reactions to Collierville’s decision were mixed yesterday.
Chelsea Glass, moderator of Collierville Schools: unofficial community page, said, “Our school board are a bunch of spineless cowards… The entire school system is about to collapse because an enormous amount of school employees are sick. We’re in trouble here.”
Jessica McCarthey, a Collierville resident, said, “Within the lifecycle of a viral epidemic it’s natural for an increase in transmission but a decrease in severity, due to mutations. Last week’s statistics: Only 10 deaths worldwide from the Omicron variant. However, Delta is still circulating. (Yes, I’ve had it. Yes, I have a biology degree.) Good luck to everyone to make the best decisions they can for their own family, but that doesn’t mean those decisions are correct for the rest of the population.”
About the Author: Paula Gomes is a Tennessee resident and reporter for The Tennessee Conservative. You can reach Paula at firstname.lastname@example.org.