DESPITE SEXTON’S THREATS, HANCOCK COUNTY PUTS KIDS’ SAFETY FIRST
Despite skyrocketing COVID-19 hospitalizations – including the deaths of children – this week at a press conference Tennessee Speaker Cameron Sexton warned school districts that if they dared to take measures to protect their kids by instituting mandates, separating unvaccinated kids, or closing schools if needed, he would ask Governor Lee to call a special session to punish them for it.
So much for “small government” or “local control”, right?
Well it didn’t take long for one Tennessee county to defy Sexton’s threats. And it wasn’t the county you might expect, either.
It wasn’t Davidson, or Shelby, or Hamilton, or even Knox – all of which are bigger cities and generally more prone to Democratic leadership.
Yesterday, after seeing a spike in cases among students, HANCOCK COUNTY, under the leadership of Dr. Charlotte Mullins, became the first county in East TN (Shelby is keeping theirs) to decide to implement a mask mandate anyway, despite Speaker Sexton’s threats.
We called Dr. Mullins up there in the Northeast part of the state to ask her about her decision to blaze this trail. She says she was just trying to keep kids safe and keep the schools open, and that politics did not factor into her decision. Imagine that! That’s what leadership should sound like.
What follows is a transcript of that conversation.
HOLLER: This decision was made when?
DR. MULLINS: It was made late yesterday afternoon (Tuesday). We started school on Monday thinking we could start without masks and hoping for a safe, positive school year – but we had several children test positive yesterday, and several more that had been in contact who were pending test results. So we felt like we had to make a decision quickly.
HOLLER: And were you aware of the press conference Speaker Sexton had prior, essentially threatening to call a special session if school districts did that?
DR. MULLINS: I am aware of that, but at this time I had to try to take care of our students here in Hancock County. No disrespect toward any state official. I feel like it was necessary for our county.
HOLLER: What did you think of them taking the position that no school district should be able to do that if they felt it was right for their students?
DR. MULLINS: I can’t comment on why they felt the way they do about it. At this time I want us to be able to have school. I want our students to be safe. I want our teachers to be safe. And our regional health department made the announcement that if our students wear a mask inside the classroom we wouldn’t have to quarantine them. And for the most part we aren’t having pushback in our county.
HOLLER: Were you aware you were the first county in East Tennessee to do that? To issue a mask mandate? (Shelby County is keeping theirs in Memphis)
DR. MULLINS: Not until it was on the news.
HOLLER: It seems like this wasn’t political at all. You were just trying to keep kids safe. Is that right?
DR. MULLINS: Not a bit. I realize the statements that were made, and I knew those were in place, but this was just more important. This is so important that we try to keep our kids safe so we can have school.
HOLLER: You blazed a trail here, and did something pretty brave. Some might even say heroic. Other districts may follow suit, and when they do people may look back at what Hancock County did and appreciate it.
Hancock County’s Official Statement:
Hancock County students returned to in-person instruction Monday, August 2, without a mask protocol, hopeful of a safe, positive school year. By Tuesday afternoon, significant changes in local covid data prompted our system to consider additional measures to protect the health and wellbeing of our students. Based on guidance from the CDC and the regional health department, and with respect to all local and state leaders, Hancock County Schools issued a mask directive effective Wednesday, August 4. This measure was taken to protect the health of our students, teachers and staff, while continuing to provide high quality in-person instruction. We would like to thank students, parents, and community members, as well as, Tennesseans from across the state for the tremendous outpouring of support for our decision. We will continue to monitor the rapidly changing situation and adjust procedures as necessary to ensure the safest learning environment possible for our students.
Many other (bigger) districts have meetings in the coming days about their own mask rules. It will be interesting to see how their decisions end up after Dr. Mullins and Hancock County blazed this trail, wittingly or unwittingly. They deserve a lot of credit for taking politics out of it and focusing on the health of the children, even in the face of threats from Speaker Sexton and the legislature.