Despite Parent’s Protest, Hamilton County School Board Votes To Keep Mask Requirement For Children

Photos by David Tulis /  / NoogaRadio 92.7 FM

Published May 17, 2021

By Lisa Willard and The Tennessee Conservative Staff –

Hamilton County, TN – Nearly one hundred Hamilton County families showed up at the school board meeting this past Thursday night in protest of the mask requirement that will continue through May 31, 2021. 

Chattanooga, Tennessee At Night

There were many more that watched the meeting online. Parents and children stayed for hours to show support for mask choice based on parental rights for the health of their children.

During the three parent speeches regarding masks, the chanting by the children and parents outside was clearly audible in the boardroom. Chants of “No More Masks,” and “Let them breathe” were repeated for nearly 5 minutes. 

One parent spoke regarding the heart damage her child is now facing due to long-term mask usage in school. Another parent noted multiple medical peer-reviewed studies that identified the harm in long-term masking by children. After the first two speeches, the crowd outside erupted into cheers for those speaking. 

One woman addressed the board members during the meeting saying, “I’ll make sure none of you get elected again. Okay? You guys need to vote this today to end this today. We’re done. We’re done. Bring our child smiles back. Now. Bring ’em back, now!”

The final parent spoke in favor of masking with the idea that “my masking helps you and your masking helps me.” The external chanting nearly drowned out his speech. 

However, the board voted 4-3 in determining that the doctor in the advisory group has more authority than parents in deciding for the health of Hamilton County students. 

Members who voted in favor of parental choice were Rhonda Thurman, Dr. Steve Highlander, and Joe Smith; voting against parental choice were Jenny Hill, Joe Wingate, Tucker McClendon, Tiffanie Robinson, and Marco Perez. Karitsa Jones was absent. 

One parent said, “”That’s not good enough. It should be parent’s choice starting today.”

The discussion was heated and lasted nearly 30 minutes at the end of the already 3 hours-long board meeting. 

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Rhonda Thurman introduced the topic through a written statement in which she had interviewed surrounding counties for their mask policies and only two had a mask requirement. 

None of the surrounding districts showed any increase in illness with an optional mask policy.

School Board member Rhonda Thurman voted to end the mask mandate and had spoken out before the meeting to say she wanted them to be made optional immediately.

“It’s just time to end this. I’m ready to die on this hill. I’m ready to fight for the children,” Thurman told News Channel 9.

“At the time if my daughter had strapped a handkerchief soiled with mucus, dirt and sweat around my granddaughter’s nose and mouth and forced them to wear them, she would have been arrested for child endangerment,” she said.  

Joe Smith wanted to give the kids “something to celebrate” at the end of a tough school year, and Dr. Steve Highlander stated that his constituents overwhelmingly supported parental choice. 

In stark contrast, Tucker McClendon called it “absurd” that the mask issue was even being considered this late in the school year. 

“The district has already said after June 1, for our summer reach program. And for August, we’re not going to have masks, they’re going to be optional. And so it’s just, I think, political posturing at this point,” he said.

In Joe Wingate’s statement, he said  that families needed to “suck it up” because “it’s only 8 days.” 

Tiffanie Robinson expressed concerns that teachers might not show up to work if the mask requirement was made optional. 

Before the mask optional vote, Wingate stated that a January resolution to allow all operational decisions to be made by Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson made a vote by the board pointless.

Wingate stated that there were a lot of parents “with nothing better to do” than email and call him about voting for a parental choice option regarding masks. He was livid that parents showed up to a board meeting for a topic that was so “absurd.” 

Parent advocate and protest organizer, Lisa Willard, stated that she is frustrated and disappointed at the school board. “The complete lack of disregard for parents and their involvement in their children’s education and health was on full display during this board meeting. The majority of the school board is not supportive of the medical rights of parents.” 

“We have the parental rights over our children. And so we need those returned to us and the school board, and the superintendent thinks that they have that authority, and they do not. So that’s why we’re saying stop it now,” Willard said.

Hamilton County parent, Larissa Robinson, said, “I feel like it’s going to do more mental harm on the children and it’s not really accomplishing anything.”

Hamilton County parents have stated that they will persevere in the challenge to their rights to make medical decisions for their children. The board meeting battle may be over, but the war for the children of Hamilton County will continue.

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