Fulton County school board meeting gets heated over masks, diversity in textbooks

FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — Debate about masks in schools and diversity in textbooks came to a head Tuesday at the Fulton County School Board meeting.

The district has required students, staff and visitors to wear masks indoors this year, but some parents are pushing the district to lift that mandate, arguing it’s safe now because many teachers have been vaccinated.

Some have started a petition demanding the change.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, video shared with Channel 2′s Mike Petchenik shows an unnamed mother speak about her own reasons for not wearing a mask.

“I have been advised by my cardiologist not to wear a mask because I need to breathe fresh air,” she said. “I called the board of education to get an exemption to speak at the podium mask-free because, by law, I’m covered under the ADA. Sadly, they denied my request.”

When the woman removed her mask during the meeting, security escorted her out to the sound of boos and screams from people in the audience.

“I mean this is ridiculous,” someone could be heard yelling. “That’s her right! That’s her right!”

This week, the district lifted a mandate on outdoor mask use for high schoolers, and will do the same in two weeks for elementary and middle-school students.

District spokesman Brian Noyes sent Petchenik a statement about the incident involving the parent removed from the meeting:

“FCS parents, staff and students continue to communicate with the Board and leadership with a variety of positions regarding Covid-19 safety standards and the use of masks. The district has consistently followed the recommendations of public health officials including the CDC, Georgia Department of Public Health and Fulton County Board of Health.

“Masks are required for all attendees at Board meetings. When individuals or speakers do not comply with these requirements, they impact others in attendance. All participants should be respectful of these rules. If or when they are not, we will ask them to comply with the requirements or leave.

“The speaker did contact the district prior to the May 4 meeting requesting to be exempted from the mask requirement while at the podium. We communicated that due to current health and safety concerns, we cannot offer a waiver of the mask requirement; however, we did offer the speaker a choice of accommodations:

1) To submit her comments in writing either directly to the Board or through Board Services, who would ensure every member received a copy.

2) To allow someone she designated to read written comments at the podium on her behalf. We also offered assistance with identifying someone to read the comments on her behalf.

3) To record comments via audio recording and either distribute the recording to the Board, or play the audio recording into the microphone at the podium.”

—  

In the meantime, another debate about possible changes to school textbooks also became heated.

Board member Franchesca Warren took to Facebook Tuesday night after the board meeting to express frustration about what she saw and heard when another parent talked about the need for diversity and inclusion to be taught in the classroom.

“Marla says we need to make sure that we teach history and we are diverse opinion,” Warren said. “Somebody says: ‘we need to make sure Black people can balance their checkbook,’” she said of a comment another parent made.

Warren told her constituents the comments were deeply concerning to her, as was the push to not require masks in buildings.

“People are pushing agendas that are not good for children,” she said. “They’re pushing it in a way that masks racism, elitism and all kinds of things.”

TRENDING STORIES:

Petchenik filed an open records request to see dozens of emails parents had sent the board that were critical of any proposed changes to the textbooks.

“I am opposed to promoting bias with school children and using educational materials as a method to promote a liberal narrative,” one parent wrote. “Our children are being dumbed down more every year.”

Another parent wrote: “will continue to oppose books in our school system that include (1) Cultural Diversity and Social Emotional Learning (both gateways into Critical Race Theory), (2) controversial authors with writings aligned with CRT, (3) a clear bias against the portrayal of White and Asian people, and their achievements.”

Parent Veronica Johnson said she welcomes updating the textbooks in the school system.

“I think that’s beautiful, I think it should be celebrated, to recognize the diversity in our nation and to celebrate all cultures,” she said. “It continues to shock me that people think that by celebrating one group, we’re saying something about another.”

A district spokesman told Petchenik the board has tabled any decision on curriculum or textbook changes until next year.