Leigh-Allyn Baker, a screen and voice actress who has appeared in TV series Good Luck Charlie and Will & Grace, was among a group of protesters who challenged a Franklin, Tennessee, school district’s decision to reinstate a mask mandate for local elementary school students.
During a special session held Tuesday night that lasted nearly four hours, the Williamson County Board of Education approved the temporary mask requirement, which begins today and presently runs through Tuesday, Sept. 21. The policy covers “students, staff and visitors at elementary grade levels inside all buildings and on buses,” according to the district’s announcement, with masks only strongly recommended for middle and high school students. The policy also allows teachers to distance six feet or more from a student or other individual to remove their masks.
During and after the meeting, parents and attendees vocally opposed the then-proposed policy before the board cast their vote. Among them was Baker, whose most recent credits include voice work on the Disney Junior animated series Mickey Mouse Mixed-Up Adventures and for the video game Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, a compilation of the first three Mass Effect games.
“I gave up everything there, a really successful Hollywood career, television shows — gave it all up for freedom and to come to this friendly place of Tennessee and be greeted with open arms, and I love it here,” she said after taking to the podium during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Baker went on to call herself a “California refugee” before saying that her “two vaccine-injured children” had medical exemptions and are among those “rare children that will just not be able to get the vaccine.” Despite that, she said she still opposed protecting them from COVID-19 transmission through masking “because their brain needs oxygen to grow, which the neurologists can confirm.”
“Anyway, the real part of the clown show is that you all think that you actually have the authority to mandate this. Because there are these books that I have, and I have them as a gift for you: the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Federalist Papers. Also, the Bible. And these guarantee my freedom and yours and our children’s to breathe oxygen,” she concluded before being cut off for time.
While some parents that identified themselves as health care workers openly opposed their children and other students, who are currently ineligible to receive vaccinations, wearing face coverings, others — including Jennifer King, a parent of two children who attend the county’s public elementary school and who identified herself as a pediatrician — advocated for the mask requirement.
“As a pediatric ICU physician, we are seeing more younger, previously healthy children admitted with respiratory failure and acute respiratory distress syndrome,” King said. “This trend will only worsen if we don’t act now.”
Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended that children wear masks upon returning to in-person schooling this year. Children under 12 are currently ineligible for the vaccine, which was authorized for emergency use for those 12 and older by the FDA.
After the board’s vote, a video showed anti-vaccination and anti-mask protestors standing outside the building, chanting, “we will not comply” and shouting down masked people as they left. One anti-masker could be heard saying, “You can leave freely, but we will find you.”
Following the board’s vote on the masking requirement, Baker posted to her Instagram. Sharing a photo of the district’s mask exemption paperwork for students, she told her followers: “Hey Tennessee! Fill it out! Show your face!”
The meeting has gained national attention, with President Joe Biden commenting on the images and video he saw of anti-mask protestors at Tuesday’s Williamson County school board meeting threatening parents, nurses and doctors as they left the meeting. “Our health care workers are heroes. They were the heroes when there were no vaccines,” he told reporters during a White House press conference Thursday.
The president went on to say that health care workers are “doing their best to care for the people who refuse to get vaccinated,” before praising local leaders who are pushing back against state governors’ anti-mask laws. “Thank God we have heroes like you. I stand with you all, and America should as well.”
The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to Disney and Baker’s reps for comment.