There was no action to change a mandate that students and staff wear masks or face coverings while at school when the Cumberland County Board of Education met last week.

But Anita Hale, 4th District representative, asked for clarification on when the board might again consider its earlier action.

“We talked about having the mask on, and I know that it’s been working — but they’re talking about having a vaccine coming out. Are we waiting for a vaccine?” Hale asked.

Jim Inman, 1st District representative, said, “At this particular point in time, this board has not set a date for any discussion on the mask mandate. Whenever the board decides to take it back up again, we will discuss it.”

The board voted in July to require masks for students and staff as the school year began. But the decision has drawn repeated complaints from parents, some of whom believe masks are ineffective or unhygienic. Others cite concerns specific to young students or special needs students who can’t see their teacher’s face.

Inman said no one on the board had requested putting the item on the agenda. He also noted the BOE operates under Roberts Rules of Order to guide its parliamentary procedures and conduct meetings. Under those rules, a motion to reconsider action the board has approved must come from someone on the prevailing side of the vote.

The mandate for students passed in July with all board members in favor. The mandate for staff passed with a 5-4 vote, Inman; Tony Brock, 5th District representative; Stace Karge, 9th District representative; Shirley Parris, 3rd District representative; and Rob Safdie, 2nd District representative, in favor and Teresa Boston, 8th District representative; Rebecca Hamby, 7th District representative; Hale and former 6th District representative Tom Netherton opposed. 

Brock said Gov. Bill Lee had encouraged everyone in the state to wear a mask.

“He’s pretty set on that and it’s pretty clear,” he said.

Brock added the Centers for Disease Control had recently changed its guidelines on “close contact” to include being within six feet for a cumulative time of more than 15 minutes instead of a single instance of close contact for 15 minutes or more.

“I suggest anybody who is considering doing anything on masks do some homework on that,” he said. 

Inman said, “The big question for me is are our numbers down in the school system because COVID is not that widespread in the county, or is it because we’re using masks? The problem is nobody can definitively answer that question.”

Brock said, “I wouldn’t want to gamble a life on what the answer might be.”

The school system reported seven positive cases of COVID-19 among students and six positive cases among staff for the week ending Oct. 23. There were 91 students quarantined and eight staff members quarantined due to exposure to the virus.

In other business, the board approved the following items:

•Local Education Agency compliance report for 2020, certifying the school district is in compliance with all federal and state education laws and State Board of Education rules.

•Acceptance of a Remote Learning Technology Grant from the Tennessee Department of Education in the amount of $128,537.60, to pay for one Chromebook for every three Chromebooks purchased by the school district this year

•Participation in the Tennessee Department of Health Youth Wellness Survey, which is voluntary for students

•Participation in the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Tennessee Together Student Survey, with anonymous responses, and subject to parental permission

•4-H field trips for the 2020-’21 school year

•Career and Technical Education student organization events for Phoenix School for the 2020-’21 school year

•Overnight trip for the Stone Memorial High School basketball team Nov. 20 for the Hall of Fame Basketball Game in Johnson City, TN


Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at

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