Washington Co., Tenn. Schools adjusts mask policy, ends virtual Wednesdays for high schools

Keeping Schools Safe

JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) — Starting tomorrow students in Pre-K through 5th grade in Washington County schools will be allowed to remove masks while at their desks.

At the meeting, Superintendent Jerry Boyd had a change in recommendation from when he spoke with News Channel 11 Monday night.

“We can certainly pursue these flexibilities targeted at our younger students that are the least vulnerable. But, we have had upticks in the number of young students that have been exposed to COVID,” Boyd said during the meeting. “It’s such a small number and the risk to our younger students is much less than our older students and adults. That’s why I make the recommendation to remove masks while they’re at their desks.”

In addition, masks are not required outside as long as social distancing can happen and they will be optional for summer courses and activities. Masks are still required when moving around and in common areas.

“In most cases, of course, their exposure was outside…the beginning point was outside of the school environment…the data still shows that it impacts the older students…they’re more vulnerable than the younger students,” said Boyd. “Positive COVID cases, there’s still a really low number even in those numbers that are quarantined.”

Boyd says contact tracing and social distancing measures will still happen as usual.

“Even though Washington County went back in person late, all of those precautions really enabled you to finish school and all of us to finish school in person,” he told the board.

Washington Co. Schools quarantine and isolation totals. Courtesy: Washington Co. Schools

One Jonesborough elementary and middle school parent says although he thinks the changes are a step in the right direction, he wishes the board would’ve gotten rid of the policy altogether.

“From what I understand, if it doesn’t affect 18-year-olds and less then why stop at fifth grade?” said Phillip Kemp. “I don’t think the board has the authority to infringe on my parental rights and what I want for my children.”

Kemp is involved in several local groups, advocating against mask mandates and requirements.

“There’s a lot of fear that goes into these kids wearing masks because if they’re not wearing it properly then they get scowled at or if they’re not wearing it properly then they’re in fear that they’re going to get in trouble,” he said. ” I think there’s so much more to the masks than just the physical mask-wearing.”

Boyd also recommended that virtual Wednesdays end at Daniel Boone and David Crockett High Schools. That will take effect next week.

“It was just time as we’re transitioning to wrap the school year up. One other supportive reason that kind of facilitated the discussion, all these chrome books that have been issued, we’re beginning the process of recovering those from the students to which they were issued,” said Boyd. “Moving on and finishing in person as many days as we have available which we have our professional learning days during the calendar that the students won’t be attending on the 10th, 14th, and 17th, so that number of in-person instructional days is even fewer than what it looks like on the calendar until the 24th.”

The possibility of children being able to get the vaccine this summer is also promising for the end of mask requirements.

“It’s another data point to look at or another source of information to make a decision that we all want to make which is to make masks optional,” said Boyd. “I hope that happens soon.”

The board will discuss the latest COVID-19 data at their meeting in July to make a decision on their mask policy for the next school year.

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