Adults laughed at a teen who was talking at a Tennessee school-board meeting about his grandmother dying of COVID-19, video shows

People demonstrate at an emergency meeting of the Brevard County, Florida School Board in Viera to discuss whether face masks in local schools should be mandatory.
People demonstrating at a meeting of the school board in Brevard County, Florida, to discuss whether face masks in local schools should be mandatory. Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
  • A high-school junior spoke at his district's school-board meeting to advocate for masks in schools.

  • When he said his grandma died from COVID-19 "because someone wasn't wearing a mask," people laughed.

  • A board member said they were "ashamed" by the reactions of some people in the crowd.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Adults laughed at a teenager at a school-board meeting in Rutherford County, Tennessee, on Tuesday as he shared a devastating COVID-19 experience, video shows.

Grady Knox, a junior at Central Magnet School in Murfreesboro, was speaking out in favor of a mask mandate in his school, local news outlet WSMV reported.

"I'm worried about my family," he said. "If I get COVID, I'm going to bring it to my family, and I talk to my grandparents a lot. They're higher risk than me, so I don't want to give them COVID."

He specifically singled out his grandmother.

"This time last year, my grandmother, who was a former teacher at the Rutherford County school system, died of COVID because someone wasn't wearing a mask," he said, prompting laughter from some of the adults in the room.

Knox tried to continue speaking but was cut off by the jeering. A woman in the background can be seen laughing, smirking, and shaking her head.

Susan Craver, a former teacher in a Rutherford County school who also spoke at the meeting to advocate for a mask mandate, told Insider her husband tried to stand up for Knox. He can be heard in the video shouting "shut up!" and "listen!" to those who were heckling.

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The chair of the board interrupted and urged the crowd to "act professional," asking Knox to continue.

Knox told WSMV that he was "shaken a little bit" by the laughter, which he called "disrespectful."

"It was complete insanity, from my perspective," Knox said.

He told CNN that he heard the crowd behind him but couldn't understand their reactions to a statement that was "so personal."

"I hope that they can see that there's people like me that want to see change and look past all of the hecklers," Knox told WSMV, adding that he's unfazed by the taunts and will continue advocating for a mask mandate.

"As long as I can get my message across, I don't really think it matters what the crowd thinks of me," he said.

Board member Claire Maxwell told WSMV that all seven members were "ashamed" by the crowd's reaction.

Knox did not immediately reply to Insider's request for comment for this story.

It was the latest school-board meeting to make national headlines as districts weigh decisions about masks and vaccines. Last month, a video from a meeting in another Tennessee county captured anti-mask parents screaming at other parents who supported masking in schools.

So far, at least eight Tennessee public school employees have died from COVID-19 within a month since the school year began, the Tennessee Lookout reported. Educators and community leaders are warning that the situation is dire, with many urging the Tennessee Department of Education to take action against the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

Members of the Tennessee Alliance for Equity in Education sent a letter to Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, asking for flexibility with remote learning and other practices to strengthen COVID-19 measures.

"Our state's families and educators are counting on strong, strategic leadership, and we believe that our state can and must do more to protect them and provide consistent instruction during this challenging time," the group said.

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