A Wake County principal has denied a mask exemption request for a kindergartener with disabilities, according to a recorded phone call released by the anonymous parent.

The child involved in the case had an exemption from a doctor for a face mask due to a sensory processing disorder. Wearing a mask causes the student anxiety and agitation, according to the doctor’s note. But Curtis M. Brower, principal of Powell Elementary School in Raleigh, denied the request.

The Wake County Public School System mandates that all students and staff wear face masks. There is an exemption for students who “have a medical condition or disability that renders mask-wearing harmful or medically unadvisable,” according to WCPSS communications director Lisa Luten.

So far for the 2020-21 school year, WCPSS principals have approved more than 200 requests for “mask accommodations” — from mask breaks during the day to full-scale exemptions for students unable to wear masks for the entire day, Luten said.

Principal: ‘I have the power’

In the phone call, Brower asked the parent for full access to the child’s medical records — a request the parent denied — in addition to speaking directly to the physician.

“We need the official diagnosis from the doctor and need to know how does she present with her sensory processing disorder,” Brower said. “In other words, if she wears a mask, how is it gonna affect her? And then, two, how is it harmful? … What we’re trying to figure out is how significant is this?”

“Her doctor is saying that,” the parent responded. “So you’re saying that you have the power to disagree with her pediatrician?”

“I have the power to make a decision whether this is approved or denied in my school, yes ma’am,” Brower responded. “The doctor can give me whatever information. If I don’t feel like it would suffice, I deny it. It is my choice.”

Brower offered alternatives, such as giving mask breaks or keeping the girl six feet away from other people for periods of time. “I’m trying to find a place where we can meet in the middle to determine what is it going to look like. I’m not looking to simply deny your request,” he said.

The parent then asked Brower to clarify that under no circumstances could her daughter come to school without a face mask for the entire day. “So she’s not going to be provided any instruction for the whole year because she can’t come to school with the face covering?”

“There is no remote instruction,” Brower replied. “You cannot just choose to keep her at home because you’re choosing not to wear a face covering.”

Brower also cast doubt on the truthfulness of the parent’s story, telling her, “I don’t know of any physician [who] has said that [children] cannot wear a facemask, period, that I know if.”

The school system is standing behind Brower in the case. “The district has reviewed the circumstances described in the recording and, at this time, believes the school’s actions are consistent with district policies and practices,” Luten said.

Growing parental angst

The scenario at Powell Elementary is one example of growing parental concern across North Carolina and the country about public school system’s efforts to bypass their authority and shut out their voices. 

Parents have turned out at school board meetings to voice their displeasure on topics from masking and COVID-19 vaccination policies to the instruction of controversial race and gender theories in classrooms.

In response, the national and state chapters of the School Boards Association have lashed out at parents for voicing their displeasure. The Biden administration’s Justice Department has also threatened FBI investigations into parents who disrupt school board meetings or threaten school board members and staff.