Board of Ed mask mandate plan unclear: chair Horn

While the Town of Farragut and Knox County followed the lead of Gov. Bill Lee last week in lifting COVID-19 restrictions and mask mandates enforced for more than a year, Knox County Board of Education has yet to address the situation after it failed in a 4-4 vote to pass the agenda for its special-called meeting Friday morning, April 30.

Officials had announced the special-called meeting early Wednesday, April 28, and failed to approve the agenda as presented, which included revising Policy C-240 regarding face coverings and another item, which would have suspended the typical BOE requirement for two readings before passing policy amendments, which would have allowed the mask policy to expire at the end of the school day last Friday.

Board xhair Susan Horn, who represents the 5th District (which includes Farragut and West Knoxville), said she was surprised when four of the eight Board members present refused to approve the agenda.

“After the governor put out his statement (that public health mandates would be ending), and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs put out his press release on Tuesday (ending the enforced mask policy in Knox County),” Horn said the Knox County Law Office recommended the BOE have a called meeting to discuss the mask policy.

“Our secretary polled the members, and every one but one said they would be there,” she said. “We only had one who said she could only be there until 10:30, but I expected everyone would be there.”

Eight of nine Board members arrived for the 10 a.m. meeting, with four apparently blindsiding the others in their decision to shut down the topic.

“I think they did it as a protest,” Horn said of the four who voted against approving the agenda: Board members Daniel Watson, Jennifer Owen, Kristi Kristy and vice chair Virginia Babb.

The Board had a regularly-scheduled work session Wednesday, May 5. Its regular monthly meeting will be Wednesday, May 12.

“What is ironic, though, is that several Board members commented we had already spent so many hours discussing this, but since it wasn’t handled today, it just means it will probably be discussed at least two more times: (at the May 5 workshop) and (next) week (during it’s regular Board meeting).”

It has since been added to the May 12 agenda.

“I have heard from parents and teachers on both sides of the issue,” she added. “Just like the rest of the country, we are very divided.

“But the parents I have heard most from are asking me, ‘If our governor and our mayor have lifted the mask mandates, who or what gives the school system the authority to mandate a mask for my child?’ And, I don’t have an answer for that.”

During its April 14 meeting, the Board voted to sunset the mask policy as of Aug. 1, requiring all summer school students to continue wearing masks. Next fall, the mandates would be a decision for Superintendent Bob Thomas.

“At this time, the Board policy will sunset on Aug. 1 unless the Board takes action before then,” Carly Harrington, director of public affairs for Knox County Schools, stated in a press release April 30.