Parents of special needs students are frustrated as classmates continue to ignore masks

Fewer exemptions not enough for students to comply
Posted at 6:15 PM, Sep 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-29 19:23:42-04

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (WTVF) — Parents of Williamson County special needs students say they’ve noticed almost no difference after a recent order by a judge to limit mask exemptions.

The district is no longer honoring Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order No. 84, which gave students the choice to opt out of masks, but parents say clearly more needs to be done.

Kim and Dan Hart say without more masks in the classroom, it makes it all the more challenging for their son Tristan to attend school.

"He’s an amazing kid who’s overcome a lot in the last 18 years," Kim said.

Tristan has Down syndrome, autism, chronic kidney disease and is only five years removed from open-heart surgery. The Down syndrome diagnosis alone means he’s four times more likely to end up in the hospital if he catches COVID-19. He’s also ten times more likely to die from the virus.

"This puts these children at greater risk because they have smaller airways and they’re more susceptible in general to any viruses that are in the community," Kim said.

Last week a judge agreed that Gov. Lee’s mask exemption unfairly limited special needs students from attending class in person because it gave students a chance to opt out of masks. The lawsuit was filed by two families, including one who also had a child with Down syndrome.

They’ve heard from the courts, but Kim says they’ve yet to see the change in the classroom. Kim says it’s what she worried about all along. That after several weeks of exemptions, students wouldn’t bother to put masks back on.

"Even though there have been three judgments that state that the executive order is a violation of student rights, the actual people in the schools have lost so much ground," Kim said.

Kim knows Tristan needs school. He’s taking part in vocational learning with an emphasis on how to live independently one day. They say Tristan has been vaccinated and wears a mask, but it means only so much if other students don’t get the message.

"There’s got to be a consistent message and people have to understand a little more that we’re all just people and we’re all just doing the best we can," Dan said.

Williamson County Schools will have an updated list of mask opt-outs this Friday. They continue to honor medical and religious exemptions already on file. Before the governor’s mask exemption was void in the district, WCS had more than 13,700 mask opt-outs. That’s 33% of the district. At Franklin Special School District, there were more than 200 students who opted out or about 10% of the student body.

For a complete list of COVID mitigation strategies for WCS, click on this link.