Angry protests erupted in Franklin, Tennessee, after a school district reinstated a mask mandate for elementary students, with some people yelling at and heckling those wearing masks in the parking lot at a meeting on the measure.
The Williamson County Board of Education on Tuesday night during a special session approved the mandate, which will begin Thursday and run until at least Sept. 12, according to the district. People opposed to the mandate gathered outside the meeting, chanting, “We will not comply.”
In one video, a man screamed at an individual wearing a mask as they walked to their car, saying, “We know who you are.” The same man later said, “You’ll never be allowed in public again.”
“You can leave freely, but we will find you,” another man said.
Carol Birdsong, executive director of communications for the district, said in a statement Wednesday that while parents are passionate about their children’s education, “there’s no excuse for incivility.”
“Our families and staff represent a wide variety of thoughts and beliefs, and it is important in our district that all families and staff have the opportunity to be represented and respected,” the statement said.
Children have shown more symptoms with the delta variant of coronavirus than in previous strains and have increasingly been hospitalized in recent weeks. Children’s hospitals in states that have high transmission rates have begun to battle bed shortages, NBC News reported Monday.
The Food and Drug Administration has issued emergency authorizations for Covid-19 vaccines for children and adults over the age of 12, leaving younger children more vulnerable to infection. The agency said in July that it hopes to offer authorization to kids under 12 by early to midwinter.
Community members were allowed to speak during a public comment section at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting in Franklin, where those who signed up were each given a minute to speak on their position. Comments split between those who pushed for the mandate and others who expressed their opposition.
Some parents argued there is no legal authority for the district to implement masks, threatening to sue, and said it was a “parents’ rights” issue.
“Parents should be allowed to choose what they want and how their children go to school,” said David Grimmett, who identified himself as an attorney. “At the end of the day I see these people with the masks, they believe it is best for their children. I believe it is not, I should be given the choice.”
Actress Leigh-Allyn Baker, who starred on Disney Channel’s “Good Luck Charlie,” was also at the meeting and advocated against the mask mandate. She described her children as those who would not be able to be vaccinated due to medical exceptions, but she still would not have her kids wear masks.
“Anyway, the real part of the clown show is that you all think that you actually have the authority to mandate this,” Baker said. “Because there are these books that I have, and I have them as a gift for you: the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Federalist Papers. Also, the Bible. And these guarantee my freedom, and yours and our children’s to breathe oxygen.”
But multiple medical professionals, who were also parents of school-aged children, advocated in favor of the mandate and debunked several comments that masks were ineffective.
Britt Maxwell, who identified himself as a doctor at one of the local hospitals, said he was fearful for his two children, who are too young to be vaccinated.
“I’m afraid for the choice that they can’t make, because the facts are clear. Kids are getting sick,” he said. “It’s happening now, pediatric ICU and ERs across the country, across the South, are being stretched to capacity in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri. And it will happen here eventually. It’s a myth that kids can’t pass to other kids, because they can.”
Jennifer King, who identified herself as a parent of two who attend school in the county and a pediatric doctor, implored the district to reimplement the masks.
“As a pediatric ICU physician, we are seeing more younger, previously healthy children admitted with respiratory failure and acute respiratory distress syndrome,” King said. “This trend will only worsen if we don’t act now.”