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WILLIAMSON COUNTY’S WILD MASK MANDATE MEETING

A WILD NIGHT IN WILLIAMSON

Last night Williamson County became the 4th Tennessee county to pass some version of a mask mandate since Speaker Sexton’s threat to call a special session if they did, joining Shelby, Davidson, and Hancock County in East TN.

It was a wild meeting, with large groups attending on both sides of the issue. Anti-maskers showed up in force, chanting “No More Masks!” all night long and carrying lots of signs about “freedom” and “choice” – an interesting word for them to be using considering their stance on women’s reproductive rights, but we digress.

Pro-mask parents had shown up around 2PM for the 6PM meeting to secure the majority of places in line to be among the 30 who were allowed to give 1 minute public comments, many of which they ceded to doctors and nurses who showed up to lend their voices to the cause.

Early on it began to feel inevitable that the vote would end with some sort of masking requirement for elementary school-aged children. The justification given for the focus on younger kids was best articulated by Board Member Sheila Cleveland, who made the point that kids above 12 years old had the option to vaccinate, wear a mask, or learn remotely, but younger kids are not yet eligible for the vaccine, and remote learning is not an option for them. She summed up her decision: “What I feel is more damaging (mentally) than wearing a mask is when kids were sent home when schools closed.”

Superintendent Jason Golden was on hand to provide a recommendation to adopt the mandate for elementary school kids, but adding: “There is no clear answer. And if you disagree we respect that. Schools can’t solve COVID or end the pandemic… what we can do is mitigate.

Jay Galbreath offered a few amendments to make the inevitable mandate slightly more palatable for the anti-maskers, in particular adding an end date for the temporary mandate of September 22nd, two days after the next board meeting, which would mean just one month of masks, and would give the board time to review Williamson-specific data about the spread of COVID-19. Galbreath says he respects both sides, but pointed out “The only place in the county elementary school age kids would be required to wear masks would be in school.”

The amendments did not appease many of the angry anti-maskers, however. One man dressed in nursing scrubs, who we were told works at St. Thomas in Nashville, had been getting in the faces of pro-mask women before the meeting started – telling them “there is no pandemic”. He was the first to be kicked out by board chair Nancy Garrett for his repeated outbursts. Many followed him out, faces twisted in anger.

Another man who identified as a veteran hurled threats at the board.

At close to 10PM, after 4 hours of respectful deliberation between the board members and deeply disrespectful, childish interruptions from the anti-maskers in the audience – more than a few of which were forced to leave – the eventual vote ended 7-3 in favor of a temporary mask mandate for elementary students in the county.

The most commonly cited reason board members gave for voting in support was that they felt better about living with the consequences of imposing a simple mitigation tool than they would about the consequences of not doing so and allowing the disease to spread.

Jennifer Aprea pointed out that she believes in “choice”, but that the choice must stop when that choice can impact the health of others around you, using the example of parents not sending nut-based products to class when other students have a debilitating nut allergy: “Sometimes we have to make a decision for the good of the whole.”

Despite Speaker Sexton’s warnings, there are no signs at this point that Governor Lee plans to call for a special session to ban such mandates. In a press gathering this week Lee said he believes parents should have the choice about masking their kids, but ultimately agreed that school districts DO have the legal authority to impose a mask mandate – something which many anti-maskers disagreed with (although most did not appear to be lawyers).

Many of the anti-masker parents could be heard yelling “DO NOT COMPLY!” after the decision was handed down. (Fascinating to hear that refrain from the same people who tell unarmed black people all they need to do to stay safe is obey police orders)

September 20th will be the next battle in Williamson County. Below are some video highlights from the raucous event.

CLEARING UP REP. GRIFFEY’S ANTI-MASK MANDATE LETTER TO SCHOOL BOARDS

Even as Tennessee COVID-19 hospitalizations have quadrupled in just 24 days (since July 4th), this past week Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) – one of the generally more extreme Republicans in the Tennessee state legislature (which is saying a lot) – circulated a letter to hundreds of school board members which gave the distinct impression that a board deciding to impose a mask mandate on their school districts would be against the law.

In the letter Griffey stops short of explicitly saying “Mask Mandates are illegal”, but the letter is being pushed by radical right-wing shit-stirrers Tennessee Stands, who recently sued Williamson County for their mandate (the case was dismissed on standing grounds), and is clearly intended to give the impression that they are illegal.

Griffey’s letter points to the judge in the Williamson County case, who said he was “unconvinced” the county’s board of education has the authority to enact or enforce such rules, but the judge did NOT explicitly say mask mandates are illegal.

We reached out to Rep. Griffey to clarify if the intent of his letter was to tell school board members such mandates are, in fact, illegal. Below was our exchange, word for word.

 

HOLLER: Just to be clear – is your letter saying school districts are not allowed to mandate masks?

GRIFFEY: I believe the decision in the case cited (although decided on standing grounds) appears to say that School districts do not have the Statutory authority to require masks.  Imposing masks without statutory authority could subject school districts to lawsuits.  They should carefully consult with their attorneys before deciding to impose masks.

HOLLER: Do you disagree with Lee Ann Thompson’s (Williamson School Board lawyer) reading of what the judge said? That he “made no definitive conclusions about the board’s authority to require masks”?

GRIFFEY: Here’s a quote from the Chancellor’s Order,

The Court is not convinced, as a matter of law, that WCBOE acted within its statutory authority at the time it promulgated its face-covering requirements. Further, the policy decisions promulgated by Mayor [Rogers] Anderson and Governor [Bill] Lee in February 2021 and April 2021 are inconsistent with WCBOE’s continued enforcement of face-covering requirements. With respect to WCBOE’s authority to issue a face-covering requirement, Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment is alternatively DENIED. The Court cannot find, as a matter of law, Defendants have acted within the authority given to them by the legislature when enacting face-covering requirements. (emphasis added)

So, what do you think?

HOLLER: I asked you first! But to play along, I guess my reading of it would be that the court was “not convinced” and “cannot find” —  but is not actively saying it DID find the board’s mandate WAS illegal. So the judge seems to be dancing around the edge of the issue without coming to a conclusion.

It did seem though that your letter implied to school board members in TN that the judge in the Willliamson case came to a clear conclusion that mask mandates are illegal. So again I ask – is that your reading of it? And was the goal of the letter to imply that to the board members? 

GRIFFEY: I am attaching the final version of the letter on masks in school. Please refer to page 2, next to last paragraph. As I understand, Governor Lee rescinded much of the authority to impose health and safety measures that were also extended to County Mayors and local school boards derived from his emergency powers.  Without specific statutory authority, or emergency authority derived from the Governor, I would submit (and I believe Judge Binkley concluded) school boards do not have inherent authority to require masks. The General Assembly generally proscribed any government entity from mandating vaccines. See, HB 13. In light of the above, should a school board/district attempt to impose masks mandates, it is my assessment and those that signed the letter, that said school boards and districts may be opening themselves to litigation and potentially be found to be in violation of state law. If there are arguments to the contrary, please forward them to my attention.  I would be interested in reviewing their arguments/positions.

 

So essentially, although a school board member could understandably read Griffey’s letter to be telling them a judge had decided mask mandates are illegal, what Griffey is saying here is he intended it as a warning to school boards that they could be sued – not that they would necessarily lose – which school board members should already know, since anyone can be sued for anything in America, at any time.

Hopefully this is clarifying for some. Feel free to holler at your local board with the link to this article to help make the distinction.

Wearing a Mask Doesn’t Make You Less Free

“My freedom is not involved in a mask. My freedom is having the opportunity to survive in America like everybody else.” Rep. Shaw lambasts the Tennessee GOP and Governor Bill Lee for their lack of leadership on #COVID19 which has landed TN in both an economic crisis and a healthcare catastrophe.

 

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