A Dec. 2020 event at Metro Nashville Public Schools’ Central Office during which parents asked for schools to reopen. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Two days after the state House speaker threatened districts that require students to wear masks, Metro Nashville Public Schools’ director is backing a mask mandate for students indoors and on buses.
Director Adrienne Battle said Wednesday she is making the push because of the “alarming rise” in COVID-19 cases and the Delta variant spread, as well as recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and American Academy of Pediatrics in an effort to keep students, staff and families “as safe as possible” when the school year starts next week.
“I wish that more Americans had taken advantage of the life-saving vaccine that has been available to them, so that the pandemic would be less of a factor in the lives of our students and a universal mask mandate would not be necessary,” Battle said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. “I’m hopeful that more community members will get the vaccine so that we can mitigate the spread of the virus and return to a normal school setting. Metro Schools will continue to do our part to promote vaccination events for our students who are eligible, their families, and our staff, along with the other mitigation protocols that can reduce transmission of the virus.”
The Metro Nashville School Board is set to meet Thursday at 11 a.m. to discuss COVID-19 protocols for the start of the school year.
Battle made the recommendation two days after the Davidson County legislative delegation sent her a letter recommending the school district require masks. Students under age 12 are not eligible for vaccinations.
It also came in spite of a statement by House Speaker Cameron Sexton that he would ask the governor to call a special session to react to any school districts that require students to wear masks.
Metro Nashville Public Schools would be the third statewide to mandate masks, following Shelby County Schools and Hancock County Schools, whose director made the announcement Tuesday.
Asked Wednesday if Sexton is following through on his plan to seek a special session, based on the Hancock County announcement alone, the House speaker’s spokesman referred to Sexton’s Monday comments. Spokesman Doug Kufner did not respond when asked about the House speaker’s time frame for making such a request.
In that press conference where state officials announced marked learning loss in 2020-21 based on TNReady test scores, Sexton said, “I sure hope that (any) school system in the state, after this data is released, does not shut their schools. If they do, I’ll ask the governor for legislation to allow those parents in those school districts to take their money through school choice and go wherever they need to go.”
Sexton expounded on that remark, saying he would also ask the governor to call a special session if any school system mandates masks for students or segregates unvaccinated students from others. He did not say what the legislation would contain other than a voucher program enabling students to attend other schools and possibly a state takeover of districts.
The Crossville Republican also took the podium from the governor to spar with a Nashville TV news reporter who asked questions about the impact of the Delta variant and COVID-19 on students who are too young to qualify for vaccinations.
Lee would not commit to calling a special session when asked in Monday’s press conference, saying the matter would need to be discussed.
Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally is willing to let school boards decide on COVID-19 and appears reticent about bringing the Legislature to convene.
McNally said in a statement he’s glad the governor and Legislature approved several programs designed to deal with learning loss stemming from the pandemic, noting students “learn best” in the classroom. He noted the rules have changed since the start of the 2020-21 school year.
Metro Nashville and Shelby County districts spent most of the year in virtual learning, while numerous districts used hybrid models of virtual and in-person learning to reduce the number of students in buildings at the same time.
“School systems do not currently have the same authorization to go virtual as they did last year and I believe that is a good thing,” McNally said in the statement. “While I am firmly against a statewide mask mandate, I trust locally elected school boards to do what is necessary to keep their students healthy and their doors open. While I would have to see the specific proposal, I have always been in favor of school choice, pandemic or no pandemic.”
If Lee does call a special session, though, McNally spokesman Adam Kleinheider said the lieutenant governor will work with Lee, Sexton and the Legislature to address the matters mentioned in the governor’s call.
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