‘Impact on learning’ among Horn reasons against mask mandate

Tipping the scale by voting not to require masks be worn on Knox County Schools campuses — with those votes prevailing 5-4 during a special-called Knox County Board of Education session — included Susan Horn, 5th District representative (Farragut schools rep) and outgoing BOE chair.

About her vote, which came during the Wednesday, Sept. 1, session lasting more than six-and-one-half hours, Horn said it was made “for several reasons.”

Those included combining constituent feedback with doing “a lot of research; I looked at a lot of studies. … The hard thing about it, you can find medical experts on both sides of the issue,” Horn said.

“I’ve heard from a lot of parents whose children struggled with a mask and were very anxious, and they were very concerned about their kids going back to school wearing masks,” she added.

Moreover, “I heard from teachers who said it was impacting students’ ability to learn,” Horn said. “I think the risk-benefit analysis that each family must decide weighed really high in my decision-making.

“I think, ultimately at this point, parents have the choice as to whether their children wear a mask or not. And I think that really fits the individual needs of each student.”

Taking feedback she got from parents and teachers in her district on both sides of the issue, “I think it might have been a little more than 50-50” against the mask mandate, Horn said.

However, when accessing the countywide feedback she got, “It was probably about 50-50,” the former BOE chair added.

Looking back on the mask mandate during the 2020-21 school year, “I think masks became very political when they were mandated,” Horn said. “… When government mandates something it does become political.”

She cited “mixed messages from the state” about teacher responsibilities beyond the campus classroom, saying state officials reversed themselves less than two weeks ago concerning off-campus learning. “We were under the impression we could not do any virtual school, so teachers weren’t focused on getting their students’ assignments on Canvas (system allowing information flow to off-campus students),” Horn said.

But in late August, “the state changed their mind,” she said, leaving many teachers scrambling to establish Canvas connections with off-campus students.

“I think that is what is stressful for teachers right now,” Horn added, also noting that in addition to COVID “there’s Strep (throat), there’s stomach viruses, there’s several things going around. So there’s a lot of kids out, and a lot of teachers out.

“And we’ve also had a difficult time having enough substitute teachers … that’s also stressing teachers.”