Mask wearing will still be required for all kindergarten through 12th grade students in Wilson County Schools despite an easing of face-covering restrictions around the state, the WCS board decided Monday night.

A measure to change the mandate policy to “strongly recommend” mask wearing failed 4-3. Board member Jamie Farough made the motion while board member Kimberly McGee seconded it.

Board members Larry Tomlinson, Carrie Pfeiffer, Linda Armistead and Bill Robinson voted against Farough’s motion while Farough, McGee and Jon White voted for the measure.

A number of parents spoke to the board about removing the district’s policy now that Gov. Bill Lee has removed the mask mandate throughout the 89 counties in the state without their own health department.

School board attorney Mike Jennings stated that the governor’s mandate does not affect school systems, but rather allowed for county mayors to issue edicts. The county mayors’ decisions also did not affect school systems and their measures regarding masks. Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto did not renew the county’s mask mandate when it expired in March.

“Don’t confuse the governor’s order doing away with the county mayor’s ability to do a mask mandate,” he said. “That was never part of the school system.”

“No matter where anybody is on either side of the issue, this is a hot-button issue,” Farough said. “There are a number of reasons that students don’t want to wear a mask. It’s hot, buses have no air, the students get dehydrated and other reasons.”

She said that for those parents whose students were higher risk, virtual schooling was an option. That was also an option for parents who didn’t want their child to be required to wear a mask.

Farough said that teachers, especially those with younger children, cannot spend the entire school day making sure all of the children’s masks are being worn correctly.

White said that he understands the different risks of students since he has eight students in the WCS system, and they range from low to high risk. With that in mind, he said he’s “not comfortable saying that masks won’t or don’t work.”

He said that if the measure were to be approved, he would like to see seating arrangements changed for those who need to be around others wearing masks.

Pfeiffer stated that she hopes that the WCS Director Dr. Donna Wright will reinforce mask breaks for students.

The schools’ mask mandate was put in place last summer when it was determined that only students in grades 6-12 would be required to wear masks in school. During the December 2020 board meeting, the board voted unanimously that all students in kindergarten through 12th grade would be required to wear masks.

MJ schools demolition

The board approved a bid of $791,000 by Complete Demo Services to demolish Stoner Creek Elementary and West Wilson Middle schools. The company could start immediately, Jason Morris of Kaatz, Binkley, Jones and Morris Architects, said.

The two Mt. Juliet schools received significant damage in a March 2020 tornado.

The plan is to demolish SCES first and then move to WWMS. School leaders have emphasized over the past year that they do not want students to see the destroyed buildings while they attend school.

The next step is to put the blueprints out to bid and choose a contractor to first build SCES and then WWMS. It should take 14-16 months to build SCES, Morris said.

The 20 modular buildings that will house 40 classrooms for SCES students during the next school year might not be delivered and installed by the start of school in August.

“There could be a delay as late as September,” Wright said. “We are going to take a look at the wing at West Wilson that was not destroyed by the tornado and we will have that ready to go by the beginning of school. We have 26 or 27 classrooms that could be used should the portables not be available by the start of school.”

She said that a recent tour of that wing showed that “the building, other than the windows, is pretty pristine. The thing is we have something to fall back on. We don’t have to worry.”

Other agenda items

The new contract for soon-to-be WCS Director Jeff Luttrell was also discussed at the meeting. He has agreed to a four-year contract at $170,000 a year.

The remainder of the contract is the same as Wright’s, with the exception of annual leave time. Luttrell has annual leave time built up and will take a lesser amount by cutting those days in half, Tomlinson said.

The board meeting lasted six-and-a-half hours. For nearly four hours, the board listened to parents and students in 28 families who were voicing appeals to Wright’s decision about schools the students would attend in the 2021-22 school year.

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