Mask debate in Collierville gets heated on first day of school

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By Aarron Fleming

On Monday, a group of angry, Collierville parents gathered outside of the town’s school district administration building to protest the district’s mask mandate for the school year.

The protest was organized by the group, Conservative Women of Collierville, which has been a frequent critic of masking and COVID-19 vaccinations.

Later that day, another smaller group of protestors made their way to a Shelby County board of commissioners meeting to continue expressing their discontent with the mandate.

That group was also encouraged to protest by the Conservative Women of Collierville, TN.

Collierville’s school district had previously stated that it would operate under an optional mask policy but changed its stance after the Shelby County Health Department updated its most recent health directive to require all Memphis schools to implement mask mandates.

The mandates apply to everyone, regardless of vaccination status.

“Masking in schools is particularly important right now, as kids are returning to the classroom and there are few remote learning options,” said Shelby County mayor, Lee Harris, in a statement on Twitter.

The requirement was in line with the CDC’s recently updated masking guidance that recommends that vaccinated individuals in substantial or high transmission areas wear a mask indoors.

Shelby County, along with most of the state of Tennessee, is considered a high transmission area, according to the CDC’s map that tracks transmission rates in counties across the nation.

The CDC previously suggested that vaccinated people could generally go about mask free and that only unvaccinated people needed to continue masking.

Before revising the directive, the health department required that everyone wear a mask on most public transportation, but only recommended that masks be worn in most other public settings.

Even after the directive was released, Collierville Schools said that it would not enforce the requirement.

The district said that in lieu of enforcing the mandate, it would take down the names of noncompliant individuals and have them ready in case the health department asked for them.

After a meeting with the health department and its attorney, however, it quickly reversed course.

“During that conference, it was made clear that the district is obligated to require and enforce universal indoor masking of all students, employees, and visitors, in compliance with Health Order No. 24,” said Collierville Schools public information officer, Mario Hogue, in a press release.

Hogue also said that the health department has the authority to shut down any school that it considers a public health risk because of the unvaccinated people inside of it.

Because of this, Hogue said that the school district’s policy will now be that all students who refuse to wear a mask will be sent home.

The only exception are students with approved disabilities, he said.

In protest to the decision, a group of angry parents brought together by Conservative Women of Collierville, TN gathered outside the district’s administration building.

The protesters hoped to speak with Dr. Gary Lily, the district’s superintendent, to voice their concerns, but he never came out to speak with them.

“Our goal today was to have the superintendent to come out and reverse the policy, but he’s not coming out,” said Bob Hendry, the main spokesperson for the group, in statement to WREG News Channel 3.

Hendry and some of the other protestors said that they didn’t want to see masking eliminated, but that they just wanted to have the option to mask their children or not.

Keri Blare, a Collierville parent, also spoke with WREG to explain why she came out to protest the policy.

“We want to have our own right and have our own decision to decide to wear a mask or not,” she said, “That’s why I’m here today and that’s the right that I have to make that for my child as a recommendation.”

A smaller group of protesters that included Hendry attended a Shelby County board of commissioners meeting later that day to continue their protest.

At the meeting, the board delayed voting on a resolution to reinstitute a county-wide mask mandate and provide up to $2 million in funding to provide masks for students in the county’s schools.

Conservative Women of Collierville, TN, in a post before the meeting, had previously accused Shelby County commissioner, Tami Sawyer, of getting kickbacks for the mask funding resolution.

In the post, the group also referred to the Shelby County Health Department as the “Shelby County Ministry of Magic”.

“Email her and tell her to stay out of the way as we decide the best way to parent our children,” the group said.

The resolutions will go back before the board at its next meeting on Aug. 23.