AUDIO: School board meeting on mask mandate
Opponents of Bryan County Schools mask mandate turned up the rhetoric at a recent school board meeting.
Several shouted “shame” at school board members after they adjourned a Sept. 23 public meeting in Richmond Hill without rescinding the requirement.
One speaker, retired teacher Lisa Freeman, told school officials to take their masks off and said “when God comes you’re going to pay a price for what you’re doing to these children.”
As recently as Wednesday, protests against the mask mandate have taken place outside Richmond Hill High School. And while school officials have publicly declined to comment on the protests, past discussions in public settings show the mask requirement is aimed at protecting staff members as well as students.
The school system’s mask requirement was first put place last school year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and was reinstated in August after a spike in numbers due to the Delta variant of the virus.
The schools mandate is initially set to run through the end of the first nine weeks on Oct. 8, and be reassessed over the break.
At a recent school board work session in Black Creek school superintendent Dr. Paul Brooksher told school board members he’d likely recommend lifting the requirement when school resumes and make masks optional, if numbers continued trending down and staff members were comfortable.
But Brooksher didn’t speak at the school board’s Sept. 23 meeting, leaving the floor to mask opponents.
They made it clear from the outset they were not happy the measure was still in place.
First up was Richmond Hill resident Betsy DeBry, who said she is a longtime middle school science teacher with a grandson at McAllister Elementary. DeBry began her statement by recalling something she said she heard BoE Chairwoman Amy Murphy say at the board’s August meeting.
“Chairman Murphy mentioned she was happy to see so many people at that meeting,” DeBry said. “Honestly, you really shouldn’t be. The fact is people don’t come to school board meetings if the school board is doing its job properly. The fact so many people have taken the time and trouble to show up should be a great big red flag to all of you that bad decisions are being made and that’s why we’re here.”
It’s unclear how many parents want the school system to lift its mask mandate, which DeBry said “did more harm than good and is senseless and pure political theater,” but Christie Nix is among them.
She told board members at length of her daughter’s two-year struggles with illness, and how just as she became healthy and able to attend school as a normal student the mask mandate was imposed.
“We have fought very hard for her to be healthy and free, and this mandate forces her to live as if she were not,” Nix said.
Her daughter, an eighth grader at Richmond Hill Middle School, told the board of her two-year fight with Pediatric Graves Disease and Thyroid Eye Disease “with a very weak immune system to go along with it.”
The younger Nix said after treatment and surgery she was able to function as a normal student and did well at her studies.
“I know what a gift it is to be able to learn and achieve good grades at the same time,” she said. “Yet I go to school every day now covering half my face and being treated like I was sick, limiting my own personal expression of health not because my parents think that’s what’s best for me, or because I’m afraid, but because you’re forcing me to wear a mask to participate in my life and my right to an education. Reminding me every day of the fear that comes from sickness as I look around and see face shields instead of my friends smiling faces.”
Mary Nix told the school board, “I never asked you to be the keeper of my health. I am the keeper of my health, and we are each responsible for our own health. I learned early on fear does not stop death, but it stops life. So let us get back to living.”
Like Christie Nix, Cynthia Vasquez told the board she should have been at the Richmond Hill High School homecoming parade nearby, but came to the meeting to tell the board the school system’s “one-size-fits-all” efforts to protect students and staff members from the pandemic were unworkable.
Vasquez, who said she had children in the fourth, sixth and 11th grades, said her sixth grade son “is afraid to take the mask off because he’s afraid he will become sick and die, and that’s not a stressor an 11-year-old should carry with him at all.”
She said her high school son, who is enrolled in JROTC, has missed valuable school time and lost out on an opportunity to sign up for college dual enrollment due to being quarantined for being exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID, despite his not being sick.
“I hope you will take into consideration this one size fits all is not working,” she said. “A healthy child should not be sent home if he is unable to go into (online learning). So he can’t catch up, can’t take quizzes, can’t take tests. You can’t do projects when you’re by yourself at home. I’d like to see changes. I refuse to see my child miss out through no fault of his own, and I will keep at this until it’s done.”
As is its custom, the school board had no response to those who spoke out. “Our role here is to listen,” Murphy told those in the audience at the meeting. She later declined to comment on behalf of the school board.
Opponents of Bryan County Schools mask mandate have estimated they have hundreds of members who have joined the cause through social media platforms such as Facebook. Eight of 10 speakers signed up at the August school board meeting were against the mandate.
What’s more, news reports show people around the U.S. are upset at school boards for enacting universal masking mandates, which have been recommended for schools by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others.
Opponents say there are no studies showing the mask requirements work and claim they do more harm than good to children, yet much of the local opposition seems to also be about personal freedom from government “overreach.”
At the Sept. 23 meeting, Christie Nix told school board members “I’m not here to talk about stats and science that fully support why I would choose not to mask my child at school if I had the choice,” she said, “and right now it seems science only supports the direction of mandates and masks.”
She, like others who spoke at the meeting, instead passionately defended her right to decide what was right for her daughter.
When Mary Nix was sick, her mother said “never once did I seek the opinion of any other parent in Bryan County to tell me how I should parent my child’s medical needs. Not for a second would I ever have considered having someone else’s healthy child put a mask over their face for nine hours a day to better protect my immune compromised child.”
Nix, like others at the meeting, went over her five-minute time limit, and raised her voice at times while speaking. “To the parents of Bryan County who think it’s not a big deal, I should just put her in a mask, it’s a big deal because first it’s just a mask for two weeks, then it’s just a mask for an indefinite amount of time, then it’s a mask and a vaccine, then it’s just a vaccine and a mandated mask, then it’s critical race theory, equality training and a wealth agenda in our schools forever changing what we love about the education in Bryan County,” she said, and continued: “Quarantines restrict the sick, tyranny restricts the healthy, and tyranny is No. 1 in Bryan County with this mask mandate and the lack of bold leadership that restricts students like my daughter Mary. Bryan County needs leaders who do what’s right, not what’s easy.”
She finished by telling the school board, “unmask our kids. Defend and support parents choice. I’m not going to stop showing up. We won’t stop showing up until you do.” That echoed an earlier remark from DeBry, who told board members “if parents want to send their kids to school with masks, they certainly may do so, that should be their choice, just as I should have the choice not to mask my grandson. Masking children is a gross overreach of governmental authority, based on the actual threat of this virus and is very harmful to students. Not a single study in the past 18 months show masks stop the spread or slow the spread or do anything other than harm children.”
DeBry, who said her grandson was suffering from speech problems due to wearing a mask, told school officials, “you are directly responsible for long term damage being done daily to our children in these schools,” she said. “The fact is COVID is here to stay, just like influenza. At what point will the administration accept this and let our children live their lives unfettered.”
She pointed to the school system recent weekly statistics showing only six people out of more than 11,500 in Bryan County Schools had tested positive for COVID.
“What are you waiting for,” DeBry said, adding later, “We want answers. More than that we want action. We didn’t come here to express opinions, we actually want you to do something.”
DeBry then asked the school board to “tonight propose a resolution to rescind this unnecessary mask mandate immediately. We demand better.”
While all the speakers appeared frustrated and at times even angry at school officials over the mask mandate, Freeman, the retired longtime educator, seemed outraged. “I have listened to these parents and am doing everything I can not to cry,” she said. “What type of people in education can you possibly be?”
Freeman, a Gold Star mother who is widely known due to her advocacy on behalf of her son, Capt. Matthew Freeman, who was killed in 2009 in Afghanistan, and other Gold Star families, recounted her education and her long career in Bryan County Schools.
She said she was often called on by administrators around the system to fix situations with curriculum and held 22 certifications in Georgia. Freeman said at the Sept. 23 meeting she initially wanted to express concerns over the introduction of critical race theory into Bryan County Schools, but was told there weren’t any textbooks on the matter and it wasn’t being taught.
While that led her to say she experienced something similar with regard to math many years ago, she suspected the lack of text books was part of “a purposeful decline of the system from what I’m continuing to see in many other areas,” she said. “I’m gravely concerned that it’s very easy for teachers to interject whatever they want because their parents have no idea what their kids were learning, especially because little or no homework is required because it’s unfair to some children to take homework to a home with little or no support. I used to hear that too. I don’t know what happened to personal responsibility, and teaching students and their parents’ personal responsibility.”
She then said it and masking are part of a broader effort to keep people in the dark.
“Parents you need to find out more about what is actually happening in their classrooms,” she said. “I don’t blame you, you’re just trying to focus on masks when in fact they’ve got you running in circles trying to deal with so many things. If you are not familiar with MK Ultra you might wish to look it up. It’s happening to your kids and our kids.”
While a reporter’s internet search said MK Ultra was a CIA effort to study mind control during the early days of the Cold War in response to fears the Russians and Chinese were doing the same, Freeman said it is part of a communist plot to instill fear, and masking is part of it.
She then admonished school officials for wearing their masks despite allowing them to remain optional for the public at school board meetings. “Take off those silly masks, you people setting up here,” she said. “Both you and I know this is a complete ruse. If you were really concerned you wouldn’t be in this room with the rest of us who are unmasked.” Freeman told school officials their primary mission seemed to be instilling fear. “Bryan County Board of Education you fear government and whatever money you’re getting from them when you should fear God,” she said.