A riot outside a Williamson County Board of Education meeting grew out of control Tuesday night after the Tennessee Board of Ed reinstated the mask mandate at the elementary school level. A video from outside the meeting documented the madness. Anti-maskers hurled intense verbal threats at healthcare professionals and school board members.
“You will never be allowed in public again,” one anti-masker shouted at a man in his car. He reiterated the furious sentiment. “You will never be allowed in public again.”
A crowd surrounded the man’s vehicle with anti-mask signs. A few men even began screaming furiously at the individual, with police officers only a few feet away. The man, identified as Michael Miller, is a healthcare data analyst who requested that the school board reinstate the mask mandate for the fall season.
“We know who you are!” One man yelled at Miller. “You can leave freely, but we will find you!”
The Williamson County Board of Education sparked the ruckus on Tuesday night after approving the mask mandate for elementary schools for the fall semester. Parents and protestors gathered outside the meeting, shouting insults and threats while the discussion took place. Some anti-maskers expressed their agitation during the school board meeting, with some being forcefully escorted for violent behavior.
Other expressed threats in a more civilized way, though school board members are still fearful for their decision. “Actions have consequences,” Daniel Jordan, a former marine told the Williamson County Board of Education Tuesday. “If you vote for this, we will come for you, in a non-violent way.”
“In the past, you dealt with sheep,” he continued. “Now prepare yourself to deal with lions.”
Jennifer King, a pro-mask parent who works as a pediatric intensive care physician, explained that “as a pediatric ICU physician, we are seeing more younger previously healthy children admitted with respiratory failure and acute respiratory distress syndrome than we have in prior strains, as cases in children are on the rise. This trend will only worsen if we don’t act now.”
The intense debate at the Tennessee school board meeting had parents arguing on both sides. The heated discussion focused on the highly contagious Delta Variant, which is sparking a spike in Covid-19 cases and hospitalization around the world, especially in children and young adults.
It was previously believed that kids were safe from the virus and weren’t likely to experience symptoms. Now the CDC recommends students from Kindergarten to 12th grade wear masks in schools. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends masks in schools for everyone over 2 years old.
Even though healthcare professionals warn that maskless schools could spark another wild surge in cases, anti-maskers argue that forcing masks on children is dangerous and infringes on freedom. The debates have been rampant across the United States, even beyond Williamson County.
At one point during the heated Williamson County Board of Education meeting, a few rowdy individuals were escorted out of the room with several parents applauding their departure. Simultaneously another larger group of participants began chanting “no more masks,” over and over again. Several anti-mask parents followed suit and left the meeting, as their two comrades were escorted by law enforcement.
“Also, I’ll see you all in court,” one woman vowed as she moved to the exit. “My child will not be wearing a mask.” The woman held up a sign that said: “I don’t care what you vote – my kids will be as masked as an Obama b-day,” a reference to the former president’s unmasked birthday party at Martha’s Vineyard.
While the debate took place inside the meeting room, an angry mob was forming outside. Parents and children were screaming and yelling in protest. “We’ll not comply,” parents chanted at healthcare workers as they exited the building. One woman even demanded that another woman “take that mask off!”
Natalie Allison, a reporter for USA Today, posted a video on Twitter that showcased the crowd of protestors gathered outside the school board meeting. The reporter pointed out that the meeting took place in Franklin, one of the wealthiest places in Tennessee. At one point in the video, an anti-masker shouted that “there is a place in hell for you guys! There is a bad place in hell and everybody’s taking notes, buddy.”
The protestors grew more violent as local law enforcement begged for peace. A sergeant with the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office pleaded with protestors to stay peaceful. “We are here for everybody’s safety, we are here for y’all just as much as we are here foreverybody else, OK?” he explained.
He continued, saying that “we are here, we are away from our families, some of us are on a 17-, almost an 18-hour day, and that’s me. So I’m here for y’all. I’m here for y’all. We want everything to be peaceful. I am begging y’all to be peaceful.”
A spokeswoman for the Williamson County Board of Education said in a statement that “our parents are passionate about their children’s education, and that’s one of the reasons for our district’s success over the years. With that said, there’s no excuse for incivility.”
She continued, explaining that “we serve more than 40,000 students and employ more than 5,000 staff members. Our families and staff represent a wide variety of thoughts and beliefs, and it is important in our district that all families and staff have the opportunity to be represented and respected.”
She concluded, claiming that “we will continue to work toward making sure all voices are heard and that all families, staff, and community members feel safe sharing their opinions.”
The school board voted 7-3 to require masks in elementary schools for all students, staff, and visitors. The policy went into effect Thursday and will continue until at least September 21.