Trousdale County Schools cannot enforce mask wearing even if it is at a parent’s specific request.
That message came during the Sept. 16 meeting of the School Board after the parent of a special-needs child asked board members to clarify the district’s policy on mask wearing. The current policy, which has been in place since April, is that masks are optional for all students and staff.
Christine Murray, who works as a nurse, told board members her daughter, who is at the elementary school, is sent to school with a mask but regularly comes home without it. The daughter is immunocompromised and could not be vaccinated against COVID-19 even if she were old enough, Murray stated.
“I have asked multiple times to have them make sure my child wears her mask. I am told they cannot tell her she has to,” she said. “I think we take better care of our geriatric population than we do our youngest and most vulnerable people.
“I’m her parent. My (child) doesn’t get to make the rules, I do when it comes to her health.”
Murray also called for the School Board to implement a mask mandate, which received no support from the board.
Chairman Johnny Kerr said he felt Murray had brought up a point that had never been previously discussed. Director of Schools Clint Satterfield said his advice to staff has been that staff do not have the authority to require a child to be masked, whether the parent is okay with it or not.
“Our policy states that masks are optional. I do not think we have the authority to make anyone wear a mask,” Satterfield said. “We might can remind them…”
“I think this is a totally different situation,” countered board member Barbara Towns. “The mother wants the child to wear a mask and if the people at the school are telling the child, ‘Your momma wants you to wear this mask,’ I don’t see a problem with that.”
“I don’t see anything wrong with the teacher telling the whole class, ‘Those of you who are supposed to wear a mask, please wear one,’ ” Kerr added.
Satterfield noted that the subject of masks is a touchy one and that “for every one of these phone calls, I will get the next one with a parent saying, ‘That teacher told everyone to wear a mask…’ We want to be sure we keep this optional for students.”
Satterfield did update the School Board on the current number of COVID cases and quarantines in the school system. According to him, as of Sept. 16 the district had four active staff cases and 19 student cases, with six staff and 116 students currently quarantined. Thus far for the current school year, there have been 19 staff and 103 student cases, and 37 staff and 906 children have been quarantined at some point.
Board members also stood up for school nurses, who in some cases have been verbally abused by parents who were notified that their child had to be quarantined.
“If you call a nurse, teacher or any employee at the school and curse them and they refuse to talk to you, nobody at this table is going to hold that against them,” board member Jason Sullivan said. “Don’t call any of us, because we’re not going to take up for you. That’s unacceptable.”
The board also chose to keep its current officers in place for the next year. Johnny Kerr will remain as chairman, Regina Waller as vice chair, Anthony Crook as pro tem, Sullivan as the board’s representative to the county’s Education Committee and Crook and Barbara Towns as delegates to the Tennessee School Board Association.
Reach Chris Gregory at 615-450-5756 or firstname.lastname@example.org.