WCS school board crowd

A packed crowd of people, some with signs, showed up for the special-called meeting of the Williamson County Board of Education Tuesday night. 

A parent advocacy group has made recommendations on how parents of students in the Williamson County Schools district can avoid adhering to the mask mandate that was passed Tuesday night at the special-called meeting of the county’s Board of Education.

Members of the board voted 7-3 in a special-called meeting Tuesday night to approve a resolution that will require masks for students, staff and visitors at the elementary grade level inside all buildings and buses effective Thursday through Tuesday, Sept. 21, at 11:59 p.m.

Several members of the group Moms for Liberty were in attendance at the meeting, which drew a capacity crowd inside the auditorium of the Williamson County Administrative Complex as well as considerably more people outside in the parking lots. The meeting was also livestreamed and available elsewhere online. 

Robin Steenman, Williamson County chair for the national nonprofit Moms for Liberty, a national organization that says it aims to "unify, educate and empower parents about various issues affecting public schools and students," claims masks are particularly harmful to young students in elementary schools. 

“They are the ones most impacted by masking,” she said Thursday morning. “They’re the most impressionable. They’re learning basic social skills at that age as much as they’re learning to read and write. 

“[So] we’ve suggested three options for parents from here forward.”

The first, she said, is simply not to comply. The group has a template for a letter that would be presented to the principal of the school where the student is enrolled, stating a parent’s intentions that their child will not wear a mask.

The second option would be for parents to state they are withdrawing their child from school, and again, a letter would be provided by Moms for Liberty.

“We’ve also provided an online form in an effort to match parents of same-grade children in the same district,” Steenman said, “basically to facilitate homeschool pods for parents who have just had enough, and there are a lot of parents who have reached their limit.”

A third option is one that has been used in the WCS district for some time, a religious or medical exemption. A form for a face-covering exemption request can be found on the WCS website.

“It’s obviously the path of least resistance, and that rarely yields material change,” Steenman said. “[But] we recognize that it makes sense for some family situations.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that masks are "perfectly safe and effective" for children over the age of 2. 

"Masks are an important tool in preventing COVID's spread, especially as dangerous variants circulate among unvaccinated children," their website "healthychildren.org" reads. "They are safe and effective for anyone over 2 years old. Don't hesitate to talk with your child's pediatrician if you have any questions about your child wearing face masks." 

Their "mask mythbusting" page cites circulated parents' concerns about children's breathing, lung development and the trapping of carbon dioxide inside masks, saying none of them hold water. 

For breathing, the AAP says that oxygen gets through masks just fine and doesn't pose any sort of issues for lung capacity, nor will it affect learning in any way.

Lung development in children isn't at all affected while masking, says AAP, and carbon dioxide poisoning is of no concern when wearing a mask, as the gas exits freely through cloth masks since the droplets are so small. They cite surgeons using masks with ease during the day of work as proof they pose no threat whatsoever to a child wearing a mask.

Only children under the age of 2 are advised by AAP to avoid mask use because they are not able yet to remove them on their own, making those 3 and up perfectly able and safe to wear a mask in school. 

School board meeting fallout remains 

Meanwhile, fallout from Tuesday’s meeting still permeates. U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn has lambasted the school board, tweeting that the mandate will have “grave consequences.” President Joe Biden weighed in after seeing video from the Williamson Home Page from outside the auditorium that showed people without masks harassing masked individuals, doctors and nurses among them.

Nancy Garrett, chair of the WCS board, posted “Jesus wept” to her personal Facebook page Wednesday morning, obviously referring to the effects of the many unruly and disruptive people in the audience who had her gaveling throughout the meeting. 

“It was unbelievable,” said Anne McGraw, former WCS school board member who helps to head Williamson Strong, a parent advocacy group and PAC. “I think it’s really disappointing to see the lack of respect that the community has for their elected officials. 

“They were duly elected by Williamson County, and they’re doing an impossibly difficult job right now. That room was unruly and disrespectful and so hard to watch. Those board members were in an impossible situation.”

Steenman said she was also taken aback by some of the actions from parents against the mask mandate.

“I don’t condone it, and I’m not even sure if those people were part of my group,” she said. “This isn’t a justification by any means for bad behavior, but parents have been gaslighted beyond belief by the district. 

“School has just barely had its first week, and parents are just stressed off the charts. Emotions are running high. It’s unfortunate it got ugly at the end.”