Angry parents challenge mask mandate in schools at Shelby County Commission

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — About two dozen angry parents, most from Collierville, attended a Shelby County Commission meeting Monday night and challenged the latest directive from the health department.

It requires all students and staff to wear masks in schools even if they’re vaccinated. The meeting got so heated deputies had to line the chamber.

“Maintain civility. Be respectful,” Chairman Eddie Jones said, “Otherwise, I’m going to clear this chamber.”

The county’s policy follows CDC recommendations but critics call the mandate unnecessary and traumatizing.

“We are tired of this!” Michelle Chain said, “Give parents the choice to make the decision for masks optional. Let us decide the health risks for our own children.”

“This is cruel,” another parent said.

Only one parent in attendance voiced support for masks.

“My kid is in the first grade,” Ashley Mayfield said, “They hug. They touch. They talk in close distance. The moment they get sick that’s coming home to me.”

Thousands of new COVID-19 cases have been reported in Shelby County in the last few weeks and roughly a quarter of those are in children. The surge has prompted some commissioners, like Van Turner, to support the mask requirement.

“My main concern was really for our elementary school students (who) are not able to be vaccinated because they’re too young,” Commissioner Turner said, “And so, if there’s a spread at elementary school there’s no way to stop it.”

Other commissioners, like David Bradford, are asking questions.

“What ability does the health department have to enforce the directives?” he asked during Monday’s meeting.

 “What I will tell you is that the Shelby County Health Department has limited resources to enforce,” Shelby County Health Director Dr. Michelle Taylor replied.

County health officials say the power to require masks is in their hands. So, for now, the requirement stays.

Commissioners also considered a resolution supporting a mask mandate for all Shelby County residents but that resolution is on hold.

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