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The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
More than twenty school districts across Tennessee are requiring students to wear masks, despite the fact that Governor Bill Lee signed an executive order that gives parents the freedom to opt their children out of the mandates.
Governor Lee signed the executive order in August, but more than a dozen school systems have implemented mask mandates since that time.
Many of those school systems started out the school year with recommendations or requests that students wear masks. However, those suggestions have since been turned into requirements.
Districts claim the mandates are the best way to fight to keep children in the classroom, citing rising COVID-19 numbers from the recent delta variant as proof of the need for the regulations.
Wilson County is one of those districts.
School board member Carrie Pfeiffer says the district had to do something as student, faculty, and staff absences piled up.
“It became clear there had been a shift in thinking among other board members and the director himself that the only way we are going to keep these kids in school and actually do something that resembles actual education and not just survival mode, we were going to need increased mitigation and that was mask wearing,” Pfeiffer said.
Other districts across the state have made national news as parents defended their rights to choose for their children. Despite those pleas, districts such as Rutherford County implemented a mask mandate anyway.
Most of the school districts with mask mandates have seen anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of parents opting their students out of the requirement.
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Legislators continue to seek out ways to increase the restrictions that schools and businesses can force on individuals in response to COVID-19.
Governor Lee, however, has softened his stance somewhat. While defending his response to the pandemic, he still attempted to encourage parents to send their children to school in masks.
“As I’ve said to parents, for those who have children age 12 and older, you have the ability to get your kid vaccinated and you ought to consider that,” Lee said. “Every parent has the ability to send their kid to school with a mask. They ought to consider it and I hope they do that.”
School leaders claim that mask wearing has become too much of a political issue and that too many parents will not send their kids to school in masks if not mandated.
“In this political climate, I don’t know if we can get buy-in to that message anymore. It’s not a political issue but it has become one,” Pfeiffer said. “Mask-wearing has become the litmus test of are you a good conservative or are you a good liberal.”
Many parents do not believe the mask mandates are actually as effective as district leaders seem to think.
Caroline Cooper, a Wilson County parent, says the mandate is just a patch instead of an actual solution.
“There are so many who have opted out, or whose parents aren’t sending them to schools in masks and there is such a lack of enforcement and messaging that it just feels weak,” Cooper said. “It feels like what amounts to a Band-Aid.”
School leaders have hopes that the state will allow them to regain some control over virtual learning options in an effort to provide continued education in the case of sick or quarantined students.
“I think the state needs to put trust back in the people who have been elected or hired at the local level,” said Pfeiffer.
School districts who implemented mask mandates after Governor Lee’s order include:
- Anderson County Schools
- Bristol City Schools
- Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools
- Cleveland City Schools in Bradley County
- Decatur County Schools
- Dyersburg City Schools
- Elizabethton City Schools in Carter County
- Franklin Special School District in Williamson County
- Johnson City Schools
- Kingsport City Schools
- Lebanon Special School District in Wilson County
- Marion County Schools
- Murfreesboro City Schools in Rutherford County
- Newport City Schools in Cocke County
- Oak Ridge Schools
- Rutherford County Schools
- Sullivan County Schools
- Tipton County Schools
- Washington County
- Williamson County Schools
- Wilson County Schools
About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Directory for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com