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Mask Mandate Sparks Anger in Hickman County
Hickman County High School was the site of a short Board meeting that sparked outrage from crowd.

The special called meeting of the Hickman County School Board had one item on its agenda: amending the policy on virtual learning. The policy adopted only the previous summer had been overtaken by events. Kentucky Governor Beshear issued a mandate for all school faculty and students to be masked in the classroom. The Kentucky School Board also mandated mask wearing for all public schools.

Students and teachers who refused to wear masks were asked to leave the school. Ten high school teachers and almost twenty students walked out. The Board held a listening session on Wednesday evening but no action was taken. Another meeting was scheduled for Friday August 13th. Because of the overflow crowd, the Board moved its meeting into the Hickman County High Gymnasium.

Parents who did not want their child to wear a mask to school inquired about virtual learning opportunities like the ones all students endured in 2020-2021 school year. The policy as written would not allow students to simply opt for virtual learning.

In May 2021, Director of Pupil Personnel Perry Collins shared a draft of Hickman County Virtual Academy that was eventually adopted by the Board. It was a more restrictive policy based on the declining numbers of Covid cases and the desire to get children back in the classroom. Unlike the 2020-2021 school year when virtual learning was mandated, the Virtual Academy was to be voluntary. Students who need to stay out of the classroom must jump through hoops before approval is granted. An applying student must have internet access, a doctor's statement, preparing an online application and eligibility being evaluated by a committee and the school principal. Students must also show success in the 2020-2021 virtual school year to be considered.

Hickman County Board meetingThe Board met before a gym half full of students, parents, faculty and community members. Virtual Academy would be opened to all 7-12 graders without excuses. It would not be available to elementary school children. The Board determined that virtual learning just didn't work for younger children. The new policy allowed students in the high school building to go to school virtually. However, it would not allow those students to participate in extracurricular activities.

The vote for the new policy was 3-2. After the vote and before adjournment, Board Chair Martie Templeton read a statement thanking those who commented. He said the Board had no choice but to follow the law. House Bill 1 designed to strip the Governor of the power to issue mandates was not yet law and did not apply. The Board had no choice but to follow the mask mandate.

For those students who refuse to wear a mask, they will be sent home. Faculty and staff that refuse could be subject to suspension and dismissal for insubordination.

School Board member Caleb Deweese addressed the crowd and urged parents to take their children out of Hickman County Schools if they do not agree with the policy. He called himself a "school choice guy". He reminded parents that all public schools in Kentucky are under the mask mandate.

The meeting then adjourned to angry shouts from spectators who wanted to address the Board. David Crowder, one of that crowd, read a lengthy statement claiming masks do not work. He theorized that children go places other than school and get the virus in those places. If they can make you wear a mask, they can make you get the vaccine. His remarks fired up a crowd that wasn't allowed to say their piece to the School Board.

It will remain to be seen how many parents and guardians carry through with threats to change schools, virtual school or home school their children.

Hickman County Schools, a system that prided itself on community support and educational pride has run into the 21st century world of division along ideological lines.

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