Chris Gregory - for web use only

Whether or not to reopen Trousdale County’s schools full time, and whether to require masks if they do, was the subject of a lengthy discussion by the School Board last week.

Ultimately the board pulled a page from King Solomon’s playbook, splitting the baby in half, or at least for the moment.

Trousdale County Elementary will reopen five days a week for the last three weeks of the fall semester, to give administration and health staff an idea of how things might go should the board eventually opt to open full time at all three schools. The board also voted to make masks mandatory in classrooms at the elementary school during this trial run.

Under the plan approved last week, that decision won’t be made until the School Board meets in December — Dec. 17 to be exact. But the plan could change if circumstances change between now and then.

A trial run isn’t a bad idea, to get some knowledge of how everything would work (in theory) if kids do go back full time. Ultimately though, I believe the board members need to heed the wishes of what seems to be the majority of parents and let the kids go back full time.

There were some valid concerns raised all around. The board heard from parents whose children are struggling with the hybrid-learning model and have gone from As and Bs to Ds and Fs. The board also heard from teachers, via a survey, who seemingly want to stick with the hybrid model for the remainder of the school year.

Health concerns on the part of teachers if students return en masse also came up. Social distancing would be a thing of the past in full classrooms, and teachers in that same survey supported requiring students to wear masks.

But I’m concerned that the board isn’t listening to the opinions of parents, which in my mind need to carry more weight than seems to currently be the case. After all, parents can opt to home school their kids, or opt for online education. If kids are pulled from the school system because parents don’t like the direction the board chooses (and at least one said Thursday they were considering doing so), that could have a damaging ripple effect on Trousdale County beyond just the school system.

And don’t forget, these parents vote. We have two new board members and personally, I think the hybrid decision vs. going full time played some part in the decision of the electorate in those districts. The three board members who will be up for re-election in 2022 need to bear that in mind.

As for the mask mandate, I don’t like the board’s decision in that regard either. While wanting to get data to make an informed choice is a good thing, making masks optional rather than mandatory would provide better data about the potential spread of COVID-19 in classrooms once they are full.

Also, parents are going to be asked to decide after fall break whether they want to send their kids to a regular schedule (if approved) or go to completely virtual learning. The deadline set for that choice is Nov. 6. But with no idea whether a mask mandate will be in place if schools reopen full time, parents can’t make an informed choice. They don’t have all the data.

The board heard from both its student representatives, two seniors at the high school. Both young men stated quite clearly that they would prefer masks be optional and were adamant that their schoolmates would feel the same way.

I understand the concern of teachers about their own health. But there’s no reason I can see why they couldn’t wear masks if they choose to and allow students to have the same choice. Masks can still be required on the school bus, or entering and exiting the building and in the halls.

Parents want their kids at school from Monday through Friday. Might they be wrong? Perhaps, but I believe it’s time for the School Board to let the parents have their say, and have their way.

Chris Gregory is editor of The Hartsville Vidette. Reach him at 615-450-5756 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

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