The decision was delayed by a few days, but a determination has been made on mask-wearing in Athens City Schools.
The mask requirement for students and employees at ACS will remain in place for the rest of this school year, but then masks will become recommended but not required.
ACS Director Robert Greene suggested that to the board during a special called meeting Thursday and it was unanimously accepted.
According to Greene’s suggestion, masks will remain required for the rest of this school year, but then will become recommended but not required beginning with the system’s summer program. No determination has been made yet on COVID-19 precautions for the new school year in the fall.
The decision was originally going to be made during Monday’s regular meeting and board members had previously discussed continuing to require masks for employees and 3rd through 8th graders through the summer program and then decide later about what to do in the fall.
However, the decision was tabled Monday after a pair of residents requested that the board members scale back on precautions.
After a lengthy discussion that ranged from mask-wearing to consideration of allowing parents to attend school functions, the board members decided to delay their decision and schedule Thursday’s meeting after they had some time to consider what was brought up.
When Thursday’s meeting began, Greene suggested altering the planned decision on masks.
“I’d like to recommend we finish the school year with the mask mandate, but starting with summer school we make mask-wearing optional,” Greene said, adding that masks will continue to be required for “anything that takes place in the schools.”
That was reworded slightly after Greene agreed with a suggestion by Board Member Dr. Amy Sullins.
“Should we say masks are recommended, but not required? I would feel comfortable with that wording,” she said.
Board Member Chris Adams added that he likes keeping the door open to possibly amending that decision in the future “if something happens either way, it gives us leeway.”
Board Attorney Bridget Willhite also recommended adding some language to the eventual motion, noting that the policy should be “subject to any recommendation from our pediatric task force, from the State of Tennessee health department and the CDC.”
“We would consider those, but we don’t have to do it,” Greene added.
He said this change in policy will line ACS up with other systems in the area.
“I surveyed all the systems in southeast Tennessee and, to my knowledge, every one of them either has no mask mandate or it’s optional,” Greene said.
As for the fall, he noted that recommendations from governmental agencies are changing too much too quickly to decide anything now.
“We’re going to be, I think, late in the summer before we try to nail something down (for the fall),” he said. “It could be a lot better or it could be a lot worse by then, who knows.”