Williamson school board chair reflects on unprecedented meeting

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Posted at 4:29 PM, Aug 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-12 17:47:16-04

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (WTVF) — It wasn't until Nancy Garrett received a bouquet of flowers from some children across the street that she started to feel better.

The Williamson County School board chair dealt with unprecedented crowd sizes and opinions across the gamut Tuesday night. That's when she and her colleagues decided to provide a mask mandate for elementary school-aged children in the district.

For some parents, that didn't go over so well.

"I thought about all the things that were so special about this community and how I have seen over and over, how teachers take time with students, and students building relationships with teachers," Garrett said. "I have seen parents investing so much in our schools. I was pretty crushed when I got home that night. I was really sad yesterday morning. I was crushed."

It wasn't necessarily the opinions voiced that made her feel down, but the way residents acted inside and outside the board room that made her pause. Inside, groups of parents continued to disrupt with outbursts while board members were speaking and deliberating, breaking Roberts Rules of Order and the decorum code of conduct Garrett read before the public comment.

Garrett even had to gavel down and ask deputies to escort out some members of the audience for their behavior. Outside of the meeting, a mob of people chased masked speakers to their car, which was captured on video by the Williamson Home Page.

"First and foremost this was a business meeting, and we read the rules of decorum," Garrett said. "They were already on notice and that there are rules for no outbursts. The second thing is that no matter what your position is you deserve to be heard. If you make the commitment to come -- and people were lined up two or three hours in advance -- everyone deserved the opportunity, and no one deserved to be jeered or followed to their cars. That's inappropriate."

Following the meeting, Garrett spent time with the Williamson County Sheriff's Office and reviewed what could have been done better moving forward. From her perspective, she said she wished she had quashed those disrupting and been more firm.

In September, the board will hear the same issue again. The mask mandate will sunset unless the board decides to renew masks for elementary school children.

"This is a moment in time and we can turn this around," she said. "I am not anticipating seeing this again. I have talked to the sheriff about ways to improve. We have a great relationship with our county sheriff’s department and the Franklin Police Department. Those meetings are ongoing. Collaboration gets things done."

On Thursday, President Joe Biden even remarked on the activity at the school board meeting, thanking healthcare workers for attending and dubbing them "heroes." Garrett said she had felt the attention of the national spotlight, receiving emails from all over the county and overseas about this moment in Williamson County board history. She said any threatening was counterproductive.

"I just think that we get to chose as individuals what happens from here," she said. "And I am looking forward to what those choices are going to be, and I know what I am going to choose moving forward."