Student denied entry on first day of school for not following new mask mandate

Parents say they have religious exemption
Posted at 9:32 PM, Aug 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-10 15:53:04-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Administrators of Valor Collegiate Academy locked the doors on the first day of school as one student attempted to walk into the building without a mask. His parents say their religious exemption should have been honored.

Neil and Melissa Amrhein stood outside the publicly-funded and privately-run charter school with their son for nearly 40 minutes Monday morning. They recorded the encounter with school CEO Todd Dickson, who could be heard explaining why their son was not allowed in the building.

The Amrhein family tells us that just days ago they attended orientation for their son without a mask. They say Dickson pulled them to the side and spoke to them about finding a plan if the school would have to require masks during the school year. That’s when Neil asked if administrators would physically remove his son from the school grounds, to which Dickson said they would not. Neil says he left the conversation with the understanding that there was still room for flexibility given they had requested a religious exemption in the past and another one a few weeks back.

“They respected the exemption all summer. They changed on Friday,” Melissa said.

Last week, the Metro Nashville Board of Education voted to implement a mask mandate for all students and staff while indoors and on buses. Valor Collegiate Academy followed the same guidelines and adopted the same policy. They issued a statement acknowledging the incident Monday morning but said:

“Today, a student attempted to enter the school without a mask and declined the opportunity to start the school year with a mask. Without a mask, that student was not allowed to enter the building. Valor is committed to the safety of our community, including students, teachers, staff, and parents. Valor’s masking policy is aligned with MNPS as our LEA and since it is a health and safety issue, we are relying on them, the Metro Health Department, and the Mayor’s office for expertise. The policy is intended to protect our community, and we will continue to re-evaluate the policy as Metro Health, TDOH, and the CDC and other health professionals make recommendations. At this time, the CDC has published the following recommendation for K-12 schools, “[g]iven new evidence on the B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant, CDC has updated the guidance for fully vaccinated people. The CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.” Based upon the information available at this time, Valor believes it is prudent and in the best interest of our community to follow both the MNPS and CDC recommendations.”

Neil says in years past, the school made exceptions for students who wore certain attire in line with their religious beliefs. He says this should be no different. He and his wife feel their children should not have to wear something they believe would restrict them in any way.

“Our God is not Fauci, it’s Jesus and we should have the rights to be defended and supported in the same way,” Neil said.

Each day their son stays home because of the family stance on masks counts as an unexcused absence and these two say it’s a policy that needs to change. Not just for them, but for the countless other families who also want their kids in school and won’t settle for anything less.

“I would like to make medical decisions for my children and religious decisions for our family. My husband and I like to make those together, without influence from the government or the school board. Our beliefs are that our freedoms come from God, not from man, not from governing bodies,” Melissa said.

The Amrhein family has not decided on what to do next, but says they intend to continue to make periodic trips to the school to demand a change. They say their problem is not with the school, but with their policy to follow Metro guidelines.

Metro Nashville Schools and Valor Collegiate Academy have said they will revisit the discussion on masks, once Metro Nashville lifts their mask mandate currently in place within Metro-owned buildings.