The uproar over mask requirements in Williamson County Schools has reached the White House.
President Joe Biden has commented on a disturbing video taken by Williamson Home Page associate editor Matt Masters showing anti-mask protestors harassing masked individuals at Tuesday's WCS school board meeting.
That meeting delivered a 7-3 ruling to mandate masks for WCS elementary school students through Sept. 12, when the issue will be revisited.
"This isn't about politics; it's about keeping our children safe," Biden said Thursday in a public comment. "I saw a video and reports from Tennessee of protesters threatening doctors and nurses who were before a school board making the case that, to keep kids safe, there should be mandatory masks.
"As they walked out, these doctors were threatened, these nurses were threatened...our health care workers are heroes. They were the heroes when there was no vaccine. Many of them gave their lives trying to save others, and they're heroes again with the vaccine. They're doing their best to care for the people refusing to get vaccinated.
"Unvaccinated folks are being hospitalized and dying as a result of not being vaccinated. To the mayors, school superintendents, educators, local leaders, who are standing up to the governors politicizing mask protection for our kids, thank you, thank you as well. Thank God that we have heroes like you...I stand with you all, and America should as well."
Masters' video has circulated widely on social media and now has roughly 3 million views on Twitter. It features threatening statements made by anti-mask protestors, with comments like "there's a bad place in Hell" for those who advocate for masks.
Threats are made by two individuals in the video, such as "we know who you are," "you can leave freely, but we will find you" and "you will never be allowed in public again." Local law enforcement had to intervene to get the harassed individual off the premises safely.
The WCS board meeting came with a great deal of tension. The controversy stems from the "mask-or-no-mask" debate that has reignited with the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19 and the urgency to slow the spread.
As of Wednesday, the county had 1,269 active cases of the virus, a stark contrast to a month ago when spread of the virus seemed to be slowing down.
The WCS board ultimately decided to heed the call from medical professionals to require elementary students, who are unable to be vaccinated at the moment, to wear masks in school. This came with a great deal of scrutiny from protestors, some of whom were removed from Tuesday's boisterous meeting.
“We are not going to solve COVID,” WCS Superintendent Jason Golden said during Tuesday night's vote. “What we can do is mitigate it.
“This is a judgment call. There is no clear answer. The reason you’ve received upwards of a thousand emails and hearing from folks on all imaginable sides of this issue is because there is no clear answer. What we are recommending is the best judgment we have based on all the analysis we have.”
In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally have supported individual school districts making their own decisions on masks, but state House Speaker Cameron Sexton opposes any mask mandates.
He has gotten a signed petition to Lee's office from all House Republicans, including Williamson County representatives Brandon Ogles, Sam Whitson and Glen Casada, asking the governor to hold a special session to strip local educational bodies of their power to mandate masks.
U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, who hails from Williamson County, said in a Twitter post that she also staunchly opposes mask mandates.
"Forcing children to wear masks will be detrimental to their well-being," Blackburn wrote. "Masks do not make sense for children and the school board’s decision will have grave consequences."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends students, teachers and staff in K-12 schools wear masks, regardless of vaccination status. Students are also encouraged to distance by three feet within classroom spaces.