While many COVID-19 precautions across the state have been lifted, one in particular locally may be staying in place for now.
On Tuesday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced that he was ending the state of emergency over the coronavirus and doing away with statewide public health orders, which will also bring to a halt local authority to issue mask requirements in the 89 counties directed by the state health department.
That led to a discussion Wednesday at the Athens School Board work session about what to do with the system’s mask mandate for students.
“The question has come up — we got calls this morning, ‘well, can my kid come to school without a mask now,’” Director of Schools Robert Greene told the board. “I need to get your input.”
Greene said he looked into the issue some prior to the meeting, including getting several of his peers’ thoughts on the matter.
“I e-mailed every superintendent in southeast Tennessee and I got a response from most of them that they’re going to maintain the mask requirement through the end of the school year, then look at it,” he said. “I want to make sure you all are OK with that.”
Currently, all ACS staff and students in grades 3-8 are required to wear masks during school.
“The hard part is, as soon as school is over, we roll right into our summer program,” Greene noted. “It’s not like we have until July to decide about masks.”
The summer program will run until about a month before the fall school year begins and Greene said he’s comfortable with delaying a change in the policy until after that.
“I think our opinion as a staff is that we just continue the masks — it’s working very well for us, we’ve been very fortunate with that and I don’t want to let up too much,” he said.
It was noted during the meeting that there has been a positive COVID-19 test in one of the schools, so the members of that class are quarantining currently.
“My thought would be at least the rest of the school year and summer camp we would have masks in place,” Board Member Abby Carroll said. “We don’t want them to lose any more and then we can re-evaluate what we’re doing for the fall.”
No decision was made since it was a work session, but Greene noted that this will be an agenda item for the board’s May 10 meeting at 4:30 p.m. at the administration building.
If continuing mask-wearing through the summer is approved at that time, he said the issue would be broached again late in the summer to decide on the fall.
“Late in July, when we meet, we can make a decision then because circumstances are going to change one way or another between now and then,” he said. “With your approval, we’ll just leave it in place like we’ve got (for now).”