- Central Magnet student who spoke in favor of masks said ‘we must not be silent’
- “We made a difference,” says another Central Magnet student
- ‘Youth matters’, adds another Central Magnet student
- Rutherford County as of December 29 had 67,523 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 732 deaths
They are the next generation of community leaders. And they grew up in one of the most public, emotional, if not the most hostile environments in the country in 2021.
A school board meeting – with COVID-19 policies on the agenda.
This group of five teenagers came from Central Magnet School: Will Severn, Grady Knox, Delaney Reynolds, Anna Elam and Jadyn Hayes. They attended Rutherford County School Board meetings in September to speak out for the requirement for masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Students worried about the loss of learning due to frequent quarantines that reduced preparation time for ACT and other college admissions tasks.
Adolescents were also concerned about the health of family members. Knox, a junior on the school’s tennis team, told school officials his grandmother died of COVID-19 because someone in his presence was not wearing a mask.
Knox has been heckled by anti-mask opponents in the public. Video of the speech went viral, as he and his peers at Central Magnet captured the attention of national media, CNN and the Washington Post, NBC and the Tennessee media.
If the masks “can save a life,” they’re worth it, Knox said. He also spoke of the possibility for students to receive “the education they deserve”.
The video went viral:Student heckled for saying his grandmother died of COVID-19 because someone was not wearing a mask
Although their speeches elicited largely civil reactions, people “have no right to be ignorant,” said Severn, a Central Magnet School junior who encouraged his peers to speak out.
“A number of young people have come to the fore,” said Severn, whose school for top performers is known for emphasizing science, technology, engineering and math.
“The science in this is clear. Masks work. Masks work.”
Speeches by Knox, Severn, and other Central Magnet School peers impressed school officials. Board members apologized for heckling the audience. The board concluded by approving a mask requirement.
(Families were able to formally remove their children.)
COVID-19 cases on the rise again
Board policy stated that the mask requirement could end if the county’s positivity rate for COVID-19 declined to 10% or less for three consecutive weeks, which happened on November 9.
The same policy also stipulated that the mask requirement could revert if the positivity rate returned to 15% or more. State law, however, signed on Nov. 12 by Gov. Bill Lee, almost entirely prohibits mask warrants, superseding council policy, Rutherford County Schools spokesman James Evans said.
Before the governor signed the law, Central Magnet asked nine students to meet with one of Lee’s staff to discuss their concerns for an hour, said Murfreesboro attorney Kerry Knox, who is the Grady’s father.
Those who met the Governor were Severn, Knox, Hayes, Elam, Reynolds, Comfort Markwei, John Dickey, Bebe Falkner and Sally Gaither.
The positivity rate climbed to 21.4% on December 27, according to the Rutherford County Schools COVID-19 data dashboard. Students, meanwhile, are expected to return from winter vacation on Tuesday.
The county, over the past six weeks, has seen an increase in active COVID-19 cases, from 632 on November 15 to 2,760 on December 30, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.
COVID-19 cases on the rise again:About 96% of COVID-19 patients at Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital unvaccinated
“We don’t need to be silent”
The Central Magnet students who spoke have different life goals.
Grady Knox plans to major in pre-medicine at the University of Chicago.
Severn wants to study political science and international affairs at one of his dream schools, like Harvard or Georgetown.
A student council parliamentarian, Severn said he had a duty to represent his fellow students and speak out “to give them a voice.”
Reynolds wishes to major in political science and pursue minor studies in business and theology. His dream school is Yale.
Talking about the mask issue was an “act of compassion towards others,” Reynolds said.
“It’s so important to have our say,” said Reynolds, who wants a career where she “can help people for the best.”
Reynolds said his generation can really change the trajectory of the national culture that has prevented mass shootings. Teens want to talk about the civil rights issues championed by the Black Lives Matter movement. They want to change environmental policies in response to global warming and severe weather events.
“We have no choice but to change,” said Reynolds, who enjoys being among “the girls on the cutting edge of change”.
“We don’t need to be silent.”
Elam intends to be a pre-med major at a college yet to be determined. She believes that opposition to masks comes from conspiracy theories on social media.
“I think it’s a lack of education,” Elam said. She decided to speak in favor of the masks as “to have a chance to make a difference”.
Hayes said she would like to study zoological nutrition at Colorado State University. When Severn asked her to speak, Hayes agreed because she felt empathy for those dealing with COVID-19, including nurses like her mother.
Hayes wanted to speak out like people across the country did after George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis. People should pursue critical and independent thinking to develop “a sense of empowerment,” she said.
“Having the courage to speak up is a very empowering feeling,” said Hayes. “Youth matters. We deserve to be heard and we deserve this opportunity to speak out. ”
Contact reporter Scott Broden with advice and questions by calling 615-278-5158 or emailing [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ScottBroden.
COVID-19 cases in Rutherford County
- First confirmed case: March 13, 2020
- Population in 2020: 341 486
- Peak of active cases (September 6, 2021): 4,145
- Active cases on November 15, 2021: 632
- Active cases on November 28, 2021: 907
- Active cases on December 13, 2021: 968
- Active cases on December 30, 2021: 2,760
- Total number of confirmed cases until December 30, 2021: 68 185
- Total number of deaths from COVID-19 as of December 30, 2021: 731
Sources: Tennessee Department of Health, Rutherford County Emergency Management Agency and US Census Bureau