Officials with the Franklin Special School District Board of Education voted Aug. 20 to approve a temporary mask mandate for students and staff through at least the next month.

The board met during a special-called meeting to discuss the requirement, which will apply to students and staff.

FSSD Director of Schools David Snowden said the district has become worried about the spread of COVID-19 in schools and what that would mean for the district's ability to keep schools open.

"We are definitely concerned about keeping schools open, and that's already to the point today," Snowden said.

The district no longer has the option from the state to switch to virtual learning if too many students and staff are out due to illness or quarantine. Should schools have to close they will have to use an inclement weather day, and if they close for more than the 10 inclement weather days allowed to each school district, that instructional time would have to be made up by extending the school year, Snowden said.

"The health and safety of the students and employees are paramount; secondary and also extremely important though is to do our very best to have less [students] excluded, and then placed in quarantine by the health department," Snowden said.

A number of parents and students were in attendance during the meeting and spoke on the requirement during the public comment portion of the meeting.

FSSD student Allyson Duardo was one of the individuals and spoke of her concern about contracting the virus from a fellow student and transmitting it to immunocompromised family members at home.

"What about when the students pass it on to my family? [They're] composed almost entirely of people who are at high risk for complications. What about them? If I get COVID, the chance is that I live, that I'll be fine. But what about them and the other people I spread to?" Duardo said. "More than half of my history class is missing and we've only been here for about two weeks. COVID is winning and we're losing."

However, a number of other parents spoke against the requirement, citing that children enjoy school and learn more effectively when not wearing a mask.

Brandy McCutcheon, a FSSD parent and district substitute teacher, said parents should be able to choose whether their child wears a mask.

"You have a choice," she said. "You can opt out."

The vote comes after Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order allowing parents of students to opt out of the requirement by giving written notice.

District officials said the decision to approve the requirement was ultimately made not only to protect students, but to prevent more students from having to quarantine if they come in contact with a positive confirmed case.

The requirement will go into effect Aug. 23. According to the district, the requirement is slated to expire Sept. 21. The board will have the chance to re-evaluate the requirement and renew it if needed during its next board meeting, scheduled for Sept. 20. Williamson County Schools has also passed a similar requirement for elementary school students and staff that will also expire Sept. 21.