School Board Approves Temporary Mask Requirement

mask
Susannah Gentry

The Franklin Special School District Board of Education approved a temporary mask requirement for all students, staff and visitors to be worn indoors and on buses beginning Monday, August 23. The mask requirement will expire Tuesday, September 21, unless the Board votes to extend it.

The Franklin Special School District Board of Education met in a special session today (click for video) to analyze the district data on COVID-related isolations and exposure exclusions from school. Based on school data showing an increase in exposures and COVID-related absences, the Health Department data for our county, as well as the capacity of Williamson Medical Center to accept and treat new patients, the Board approved a temporary mask requirement for all students, staff and visitors to be worn indoors and on buses beginning Monday, August 23. The mask requirement will expire Tuesday, September 21, unless the Board votes to extend it.

Along with the recommendations of many respected national and local health agencies and organizations who have strongly recommended universal masking, the School Board’s decision was based on several important factors:

  1. The number of new COVID cases in both FSSD students and staff nearly quadrupled from Week 1 to Week 2.
  2. Children 11 and younger are not yet eligible for the vaccine, and significant numbers of students 12 and older remain unvaccinated.
  3. The Tennessee Department of Health case count data for Williamson County has risen to the “moderate level” based on percentage of the population with active COVID cases.
  4. According to CDC’s data tracker, Williamson County has been in the high range for community transmission since July 22.
  5. The Delta variant spreads more easily than previous variants, and can be spread by vaccinated individuals. As the school year has progressed, the number of young people contracting the virus has increased.
  6. Based on Tennessee Department of Health contact tracing guidance, if an unmasked student tests positive, nearby students must quarantine, even if they were wearing masks. However, if both the positive case and the contacts are masked, the contacts may stay in school.

Keeping students and staff in schools is crucial. Over the summer, the State Board of Education denied the FSSD’s request to provide school-based virtual learning. Also, even if only one school has to close for a day, the entire district loses a day reserved for inclement weather. The FSSD has seven inclement weather days to use during the 2021-22 school year.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s Executive Order 84 allows parents or guardians to opt out from school district mask mandates for their child by completing an opt-out form. The order does not provide exemptions for district employees, visitors or volunteers. Families who have already filed mask exemptions for this year do not need to complete the opt out form. Unless your child has a medical condition related to mask wearing, we respectfully request that parents seriously consider allowing your child to wear a mask to see if we can limit the number of positive cases and exclusions based on exposure in our schools.

The FSSD will continue to focus on mitigation efforts, including frequent hand washing, social distancing as much as possible, ventilation of classrooms, and routine sanitization of commonly used areas. The district will continue to closely monitor the school and community data and provide regular updates for the board as it considers extensions and/or revocations of the mask requirement. The data sets will be considered as a whole with no individual “triggers” in any specific metric.

We know the FSSD community has always bonded together when faced with challenges. Thank you to all of our FSSD families who have lent your support to our teachers, staff and school administrators as we have spent the past two weeks gathering and analyzing school specific data in order to make this difficult decision. Each of your voices have been heard and we appreciate the respectful tone that has allowed our students and teachers to begin this school year effectively.  Let us continue to lead the way with a positive and fun educational environment where learning can take place in safe and compassionate surroundings.