Tennessee

Tenn. Dad Defends Local School Board's Mask Mandate in Viral Speech

"Avoiding masks is not in the Bible, but taking care of others is."

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Justin Kanew is not masking his feelings for fellow parents who oppose mask mandates.

On Monday night, the Tennessee dad of a 5-year-old daughter took the podium in front of the Williamson County Board of Education.

"I'm the dad of a new kindergartner and her first day was right after the chaos last week," Kanew said, referring to the angry protest that erupted in Franklin, Tennessee, after the district reinstated a mask mandate for elementary school students. During the protest, people opposed to the mandate gathered, chanting, "We will not comply." In one video, a man screamed at a person wearing a mask on the way to a car, saying, "We know who you are!" and another man warned, "You can leave freely, but we will find you."

In the now-viral video of Kanew's speech to the school board, Kanew continued describing his daughter's first day of kindergarten.

"She went to school and was one of just a few kids in her class wearing a mask, which made her ask why she had to. My answer was because we want to take care of other people," Kanew said in the video, which has been viewed more than 1 million times on Twitter.

"She's 5 years old but she understood that concept, and it's disappointing that more adults around here can't seem to grasp it."

Kanew also had a message for those claiming a religious exemption from wearing a mask.

"I asked a pastor friend of mine and he was very clear that there was no actual biblical justification for using the Bible to get out of a mask mandate passed by a majority of this elected board," he said. "But thousands are doing it anyway, calling it a religious exemption, which is frankly just sad. Avoiding masks is not in the Bible, but taking care of others is.

"Now today we have Governor Lee's executive order to allow opt-outs, which is government overreach undercutting a local decision. If you only like democracy when it goes your way, you don't actually like democracy."

With schools in some states opening this week as the COVID-19 delta variant surges across the country, many parents are understandably anxious. But there are things schools can do to reduce the risk to their students. Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University Hospital, explains four things schools can do to keep kids safe. (And yes, they include masks.)

Kanew's impassioned speech comes on the heels of an executive order from Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, which gives parents the ability to opt out of school mask mandates.

"No one cares more about the health and well-being of a child than a parent," Lee said in the order. "I am signing an executive order today that allows parents to opt their children out of a school mask mandate if either a school board or health board enacts one over a district."

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