In its third meeting of the month, the Williamson County Schools Board of Education convened Aug. 26 for a special-called meeting to discuss COVID-19.

In an 8-4 vote, the board voted to approve a mask requirement for all students and staff, which would be in addition to its existing requirement for elementary school campuses.

The district is expected to make announcements regarding the requirement to families Aug. 27, according to the district.

The motion, brought forward by District 5 Board member Jen Aprea, was intended to mitigate the rising number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the district and reduce quarantines.

"I've heard from so many families and parents that expect us to put this layer of mitigation in place that everyone in K-12 buildings is wearing a mask," Aprea said.

The requirement is slated to expire on Sept. 21 unless it is extended during the board's Sept. 20 meeting, according to the district.

Dozens of parents spoke during the meeting, demanding the board rescind its existing requirement for elementary students and staff and, at times, calling for board members to resign or be replaced in the county's 2022 election. A smaller number of parents at the meeting called for the district to implement stricter masks requirements.

While the district approved a temporary mask requirement for students and staff at elementary schools earlier this month, an executive order from Lee granted an opt-out for parents, effectively making the requirement optional. As of Aug. 20, about one-fourth of all students had filed an opt-out request with the district, with higher percentages at elementary schools.

Calls for remote options

During the meeting the board also voted to pass a resolution calling for Gov. Bill Lee to allow the district to switch to virtual learning if necessary. As of Aug. 24, the district had reported 579 confirmed COVID cases and has had to close one campus due to a high number of absences among staff, although not all were COVID-related, according to the district. District officials said because the WCS is currently not allowed by the state department of education to implement virtual learning, the district had to use an inclement weather day for that campus and students at that school did not have classes.

"Having students learning is better than taking an inclement weather day," WCS Superintendent Jason Golden said during the meeting. "This is only a tool that we use after careful consideration—this is not something that we want to use regularly."

According to the district, should WCS have to close for more that 10 days due to a lack of staffing without remote learning, that time would need to be made up in accordance with instructional time requirements from the state and cut into previously-scheduled breaks or extend the school year. Should that occur, the district would be required to pay teachers and staff for additional time.

The resolution was approved in a 9-3 vote; board members Dan Cash, Angela Durham and Jay Galbreath voted against the resolution. However, the request will still have to approved by Lee before the district could implement remote learning.

In addition to the resolution, Golden and David Snowden, director of schools for Franklin Special School District, have also issued a letter to local legislators, calling on them to urge the governor to allow remote learning.

COVID-19 leave

In addition to the resolution, the board also unanimously passed a measure to grant COVID-specific sick leave to teachers and staff.

According to the policy approved by the board, staff would be granted up to 10 paid days of leave should they have a confirmed cases of COVID-19 that would be retroactively effective as of Aug. 2. This paid leave would be in addition to existing sick leave granted to employees.

Last year, COVID-19 leave for large employers was covered by the federal government, which is not the case this year, Golden said.