Ms. Kristy made a motion to approve the Superintendent's recommended protocols for the 2021-2022 school year. Ms. Babb seconded the motion.
Ms. Satterfield stated she understood comments she made at the Board's April 7 work session may have been hurtful. She explained that she had reached a threshold and asked for understanding and grace. She encouraged the Board to get back on track and support the hard work of teachers.
Mr. Watson also reflected on the work session meeting and apologized to Ms. Satterfield for not speaking up. He stated that systems had historically oppressed black and brown people and for the Board to be accused of discrimination for asking attendees who chose not to wear a face mask to view the meeting live from a separate area when they were being accommodated was not a fight he wanted to give energy to. Mr. Watson felt for someone to co-op the pain of recent murders of students and direct comments to Ms. Satterfield was wrong and uncalled for. He pointed out that out of 57 elected Board Members since the time the city and county schools merged in 1987-1988, only 3 were minority and all from District 1. He stated that was why the work of the Disparities in Educational Outcomes Task Force had continued. He repeated his apology for not standing with Ms. Satterfield when remarks were directed at her at the April 7 work session.
Ms. Babb read Board Policy B-180 "Public Forum" to clarify the rules and provide guidance to those registered to speak.
Ms. Kristy asked Deputy Law Director Gary Dupler if the current state of emergency still in effect in Tennessee affected what the Board could do at this time. Mr. Dupler stated Governor Bill Lee had extended his Executive Orders through April 28 and he did not know about anything following that date. There were several agencies the Board could seek guidance from, but if they wanted to choose one, Mr. Dupler's recommendation would be the Tennessee Department of Health, since public schools were governed by the State. He said the Knox County Health Department and any Federal agencies could also be referenced. Ms. Kristy asked if the Board could enforce policy if the Governor's Executive Orders dictated what the Board could and could not do. Mr. Dupler said the Governor had stated that schools could open, but other things were currently unclear, and Knox County Schools continued to seek State guidance. Ms. Kristy stated she was fine with sunsetting the face coverings policy as proposed, but reminded the Board there was a high probability of the district being in a different place in August.
- Edna Gibson of Knox County, Tennessee addressed the Board regarding face masks.
- Patti King of Knox County, Tennessee addressed the Board regarding COVID mandates.
- Sherry Garrett of Knox County, Tennessee addressed the Board regarding face masks.
- Steven Elliot of Knox County, Tennessee addressed the Board regarding face masks.
- Izzabella Elliot of Knox County, Tennessee addressed the Board regarding face masks.
- Naomi Elliot of Knox County, Tennessee addressed the Board regarding face masks.
- Kim Sprague of Knox County, Tennessee addressed the Board regarding face masks.
- Shelly Wilson of Knox County, Tennessee addressed the Board regarding face masks.
- Ashley Burns of Knox County, Tennessee addressed the Board regarding face masks.
- Elizabeth Wagner of Knox County, Tennessee addressed the Board regarding face masks.
Mr. Watson asked Mr. Dupler if the Governor chose to lift his Executive Order on April 28 if the Board lost the ability to require masks. Mr. Dupler said it was hard to answer what ifs but noted if the Board continued on the current path, it would be problematic if the current state of emergency due to the pandemic was not continued. Mr. Watson stated no one knew what the Governor might do but he felt the Board needed to plan anyway with the understanding that the state of emergency might end.
Ms. Bounds pointed out the Governor's current Executive Order was in place through April 28, but that Knox County was different because of Knox County Health Department. She asked if the Governor could trump any plan. Mr. Dupler said the Law Department maintained that local decisions were up to County government, but Knox County Schools was separate as a State Local Education Agency. The Law Department's recommendation was to look to the State for guidance first. He stated there were also requirements in the Knox County Charter that could be taken into consideration, but, ultimately, the State guidance/orders would rule.
Mr. McMillan noted the Board could do whatever they wanted within the power given to them by the State and the Knox County Health Department had no authority to make the Board require face masks. Mr. Dupler confirmed a majority of the Board could make decisions for the schools over KCHD requirements. Ms. Babb noted the current discussion was regarding the Superintendent's plan for the 2021-2022 school year and since no one knew what was going to happen, she encouraged the Board to come together and move forward. She stated Superintendent Thomas and his team had put a lot of thought behind changes and she felt the plan allowed for flexibility. She said everyone hoped there were no mask requirements or contact tracing for the next school year, but since it was only April and no one knew about August at this time, she would be supporting Superintendent Thomas' recommended plan. Ms. Babb asked for clarification of how school closure days would be handled at the State-level going forward. Chief Academic Officer Dr. Jon Rysewyk reported that KCS was still asking questions, but it appeared that school closures due to inclement weather or any illness would still be allowed, they would just be counted as a day off even if virtual instruction was offered on those days.
Ms. Owen apologized for missing the April 7 work session. She believed the Board's focus had shifted to politics, reminded them that Board Members were elected non-partisan, and asked that they step back and focus on their vision and duty. Since the Board's vision was to grow lifelong learners, she asked Board Members not to do what was appropriate for their personal lives but for the diverse population of students and families they served. She stated that Board Members did not have the same knowledge or expertise, but they had worked to place staff members in administration that were experts and make decisions every day according to student need. Ms. Owen felt for the Board to ignore the expertise of the CDC and Knox County Health Department made no sense and decisions should not be made according to popular opinion. She said everyone wanted COVID to be over but wanting it to end did not make it so. Ms. Owen noted that people knew they had to wear shoes to meetings, and she could not wrap her mind around that asking people to wear a thin piece of cloth to protect the lives of others was too horrific to bear. She believed if everyone did not continue to follow the guidelines of medical experts, the pandemic may never be over.
Mr. McMillan said since he had to sit and be lectured, he wanted to confirm that he had worn a mask until he took his seat and confirmed that he was fully vaccinated. He noted Ms. Owen has referred to this decision being political and said they could discuss that if she wanted to, but he had no faith in Knox County Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan since he felt she enjoyed holding the community hostage. He recalled that Dr. Buchanan had stated at the April 7 work session that she believed the CDC was less political than it was previously, and he strongly disagreed. He told Ms. Owen if that offended her or she thought she could catch COVID from him, she could just stay away from him. Ms. Owen apologized if it appeared her statements were made to any one individual, she was sharing things she had spent a lot of time thinking about, but they were not directed at any individual.
Ms. Horn stated the Board had remained cordial throughout this continued disagreement and she hoped that could continue. She hoped to move forward and wanted to clarify that the Board had Superintendent Thomas' recommendations and two policies they needed to consider. Ms. Babb expressed her desire to handle each item separately from the other. Regarding the plan for the 2021-2022 school year, Ms. Horn believed the community needed normalcy and separating students was causing long-term damage. She noted that several districts around Knox County had returned to normal and she had heard from multiple teachers that masks caused difficulties especially when teaching languages. Ms. Horn also believed academics were being impacted and even though it was no one's fault, masks and other protocols were causing developmental issues for children. She felt statements made at the April 7 work session by East Tennessee Children's Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joe Childs were comforting since he expressed that vaccinations were the key, especially since less than 1% of the population in Knox County currently had COVID-19. Ms. Horn said there were studies to support every opinion, but all studies agreed the vaccine prevented asymptomatic spread, had a 70-90% efficacy rate, and proved a significant reduction of transmission after the vaccine was administered. She pointed out that a spike was expected after spring break and that did not happen, and trends were the same with or without masks, so she was in favor of sunsetting the face coverings policy with the understanding that there was a surge, the Superintendent could address that at that time. Ms. Horn said she was also not comfortable with the social distancing requirements in the plan, and she preferred the sunsetting of the policy and putting the plan for the 2021-2022 school year on hold.
Mr. Watson expressed his appreciation for the work of Superintendent Thomas and his team and he asked what was meant by "young children" on page one under the heading of "Face Coverings" since his preference would be to make it more specific. Superintendent Thomas agreed "young" was ambiguous, but his interpretation would be pre-k and kindergarten students, but he was amenable to the Board's wishes. Mr. Dupler had looked at Tennessee case law to try to determine what judges used to define young children and there were two options. They either used the term to refer to pre-k or kindergarten students or elementary school students up to age 10 or 11. He noted case law predominantly used pre-k and kindergarten students, but the Law Department supported either option. Mr. Watson asked Superintendent Thomas what he recommended since his plan was being considered. Superintendent Thomas indicated his recommendation would be pre-k and kindergarten students. Mr. Watson also appreciated the clarification of no mask requirements outdoors since it was important to enforce policy consistently. He asked about the effect of a negative COVID test on the statements on page 2 of the plan in the fourth bullet point. It was explained if a negative COVID test was obtained, students could report back to campus on the 8th day. Superintendent Thomas said he would be glad to make that adjustment.
Ms. Kristy clarified that she would support the Superintendent's recommended plan but wanted to make sure it was communicated clearly that things could change very quickly and look different by August. She pointed out the reason that some principals had interpreted the mask requirements different for outdoors, was the social distancing requirements, so she felt the communication must be very clear and consistent. Mr. McMillan said in his opinion there would be inconsistency since no one knew what would happen in the fall, but there should be ample supply of the vaccine by that time, and everyone seemed to agree that masks should not be needed outdoors. He also felt strongly that if football or basketball were allowed, from a fairness standpoint, every activity should be allowed without masks, even singing. For these reasons he would not be supporting the plan. He believed it was an individual decision about whether or not to wear a mask.
Ms. Bounds expressed her appreciation for all speakers and Superintendent Thomas. She stated her preference that young children be defined as students up to 5th grade. She also wanted the labels of "red," "yellow," and "green" to disappear, since KCS was on yellow only because of the fill rate of substitutes, which was always the case and not due to COVID. Superintendent Thomas noted those were included in the 2020-2021 plan only because the Board wanted metrics. Ms. Bounds agreed and repeated she did not feel they were indicative going forward. Mr. Watson expressed his appreciation for all comments as well and felt the Board needed to define one agency to look to for guidance. He felt it was short sided to take action on the mask policy, but not the plan. Ms. Bounds said she was fine with addressing the policies and holding off on the plan until after April 28 when the Governor's order may expire. Ms. Henderson agreed with Ms. Horn that this recommendation pertained to the local community and since Dr. Child's comments were very helpful, the Board needed to listen to experts within the Knox County community.
The Board took a short recess and allowed one additional Public Forum speaker who had indicated they had registered but was not on the list.
Mr. Watson stated he had asked Dr. Childs and Dr. Buchanan to attend the Board's April 7 work session because there was differing opinions. He felt Dr. Childs' statements was now being used for a different purpose. He reiterated the importance of the Board indicating what agency they would be using for guidance. Ms. Horn asked if the Tennessee Department of Health's guidance on social distancing was 3 feet. Student Supports Executive Director Jason Myers confirmed the measure was still 6 feet except for elementary students which they indicated at 3 feet.
- Ethan Lindsey of Knox County, Tennessee addressed the Board regarding face masks and COVID-19 protocols.
Ms. Babb made a substitute motion to approve the Superintendent's plan with the identification of young children as pre-K and kindergarten students and clarifying language on the fourth bullet point on page 2 regarding a negative COVID test on day 6 or 7 allowing an end to any quarantine on day 8. Ms. Satterfield seconded the motion.
Roll Call Vote:
Ms. Satterfield - Yes
Ms. Owen - Yes
Mr. Watson - Yes
Ms. Babb - Yes
Ms. Horn - No
Ms. Henderson - No
Ms. Bounds - No
Mr. McMillan - No
Ms. Kristy - Yes
Vote: 5-4 Passed