WCS board Josh Brown

Board members Josh Brown and Jennifer Aprea 

Going against the recommendation from Superintendent Jason Golden and attorneys for Williamson County Schools, members of the county’s Board of Education voted 7-5 Monday night to remove a mask mandate that has been off and on for the past several days.

At Monday’s WCS board meeting, Golden had recommended there be a deferral on the agenda item having to do with COVID-19 mitigation strategies, suggesting the matter be held until a scheduled hearing Friday with U.S. District Court Judge Waverly Crenshaw over a lawsuit against Gov. Bill Lee and the state of Tennessee. 

The lawsuit was filed by families of eight disabled students from schools across the state, under the Americans With Disabilities Act, and is separate from another lawsuit that had been filed earlier against WCS and the Franklin Special School District regarding the opt-out measure ordered by Lee.

After Golden stated his recommendation, board member Jay Galbreath, District 6, made a motion that mask mandates be removed. He was joined in yay votes by Angela Durham (District 1), Dan Cash (District 2), Eliot Mitchell (District 3), Josh Brown (District 4), Sheila Cleveland (District 7) and Candy Emerson (District 8). Voting against were Jennifer Aprea (District 5), Rick Wimberly (District 9), Eric Welch (District 10), KC Haugh (District 11) and Nancy Garrett (District 12).

“Our case count, if you look at it statistically, is effectively zero,” Brown said during discussion. “We could increase our case count significantly and it would still be, effectively, zero, when you think about 42,000 students and less than 100 cases.”

The back-and-forth of mask requirements for students and teachers started Friday after Lee had signed into law a bill presented by state legislators that would end mask mandates. Both districts in Williamson County alerted families late Friday afternoon that masks would no longer be required beginning Monday.

However, Judge Crenshaw, from the Middle District of Tennessee, issued an injunction Sunday that schools would again have to enforce the wearing of masks beginning the next day. 

It’s unclear what the WCS board’s approval to stop mask mandates means after Friday’s hearing. Meanwhile, students, teachers and visitors in the FSSD schools are still required to wear masks, effective after Crenshaw’s injunction.

Carol Birdsong, executive director of communications for WCS, alerted families about the update at 9:20 Monday night.

“We remain committed to supporting and accommodating any student with a disability making him/her more vulnerable to COVID, and will address those through an interactive process with parents,” her letter reads. “If your child needs an additional accommodation, please contact your school principal.”