In a standing room-only meeting with heightened security, the Williamson County Schools Board of Education met Aug. 10 to discuss COVID-19 health protocols as active cases rise in the county.

In a 7-3 vote, the board approved a temporary mask requirement for students and staff at WCS elementary schools beginning Aug. 12. The requirement is set to expire Sept. 21 unless the board takes action to approve a renewal of the requirement at its next board meeting, which is scheduled for Sept. 20.

In a meeting spanning nearly four hours, hundreds of area residents were in attendance representing both sides of the mask debate, carrying signs with slogans such as “Keep our neighbors safe” and “Pro medical freedom.” Even more residents stood outside once indoor capacity was met, chanting “No more masks.”

Superintendent Jason Golden said the board decision came as a result of rising COVID-19 cases both in the community and in schools, and the district hopes to remove the requirement once cases decline. According to Mandy Thompson, a nurse practitioner for WCS, district staff chose to make that recommendation for elementary school students and not middle and high school students because the majority of students in elementary schools are ineligible to get the vaccine as they are younger than age 12.

Students will be required to wear masks when inside school buildings and while on the bus, according to the district. Masks will not be required outside, and staff members will be able to remove masks when socially distanced at least 6 feet away from students.