Youth work to change law

Students study Constitution and city ordinances

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Civics is the study of the rights and obligations of citizens in society, and one group of White County youth proved that you are never too young to learn about your role in society or to take those obligations seriously.

A White County homeschool group has been meeting together weekly to study civics and recently found some interesting laws, including one they felt needed to be changed.

“We have been learning about the Tennessee Constitution, the U.S. Constitution, and the Sparta Ordinances,” Aidan Hayes, a seventh grader in the class explained, “and we found an ordinance that didn’t make sense.”

According to Sadie Buckley, another student in the class, the city ordinance, which dated back to circa 1978, regarded the wearing of masks in public.

11-807. Wearing masks. It shall be unlawful for any person to appear on or in any public way or place while wearing any mask, device, or hood whereby any portion of the face is so hidden or covered as to conceal the identity of the wearer. The following are exempted from the provisions of this section:

(1) Children under the age of ten (10) years.

(2) Workers while engaged in work wherein a face covering is necessary for health and/or safety reasons.

(3) Persons wearing gas masks in civil defense drills and exercises or emergencies.

(4) Any person having a special permit issued by the city recorder to wear a traditional holiday costume. (1978 Code, § 10-234)

“We talked about it and, since we are over 10, this would include us wearing like the traditional ‘Scream’ Halloween mask, or even surgical masks like during the pandemic,” she said. “We can’t wear them unless we have a permit from the city recorder.”

“We don’t think anyone even knows about this law. We’ve gone to trunk or treats and never asked permission to wear a mask. We have gone shopping or to the doctor and had to wear a surgical mask,” Andrew Buckley, another of the group’s participants said. “We didn’t get permission from the City Recorder.”

The class decided to look further into what could be done about the law so that they, along with everyone who chooses to wear a mask for their health safety, or all of the children who choose to go trick or treating next Halloween, won’t be breaking the law.

Jackson Morgan, a 12-year-old student in the class, said he read the Constitution and learned about their rights as citizens of the United States and the state of Tennessee. He quoted Article 1 as:

Article 1 – Declaration of Rights Section 1 – All the power is inherent in the people and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their peace, safety, and happiness. For the advancement of those ends, they have at all times an unalienable and indefensible right to alter, reform or abolish the government as they may think proper.

“This means that, we the people, have the right to get rid of laws or change them in a way that the people think is right,” Morgan said, adding that there is nothing in either the state or country’s constitutions stating how old a person has to be to request change.

According to all of his classmates, the group said they decided to ask Police Chief Doug Goff about the ordinance when they visited the City of Sparta Police Station as a fieldtrip and hands-on portion of their class.

“We asked the chief of police and no one knew about this,” Addy Morgan, another member of the class said, further stating that the police chief said he would look into the law for them. “He was a man of his word, and he did look into it. And he asked the city board to change the law for us.”

True to his word, Goff asked that an ordinance be placed on the city’s agenda for the law to be reviewed by Sparta Board of Mayor and Alderman, and, on Nov. 7, 2021, the first reading was held

Ordinance #21-941 Title 11 Chapter 8 of the Sparta Municipal Code is hereby amended as follows: Municipal Code Title 11, paragraph 807 is repealed in its entirety, passed the first reading, and the subsequent second and final reading two weeks later, with no discussion and a unanimous vote by the aldermen.

“If you disagree with something, instead of just complaining or causing trouble, you should call your government representative,” Jackson Morgan said “Talk to them about changes you would like to see happen.”

The group of homeschoolers all agreed it was exciting to see their actions result in change and to put the lessons they learned in the classroom into action.

“It was pretty cool,” Sadie Buckley said, “and now we are looking at other laws people might not know are on the books.”

Like the fact that it may be illegal in Tennessee to carry an ice cream cone in your pocket, or that it is illegal to shoot any animal except a whale from a moving vehicle.     

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