Johnson City BOE extends mask requirement with opt-out until January

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Johnson City Schools’ face mask requirement has been extended until January, unless COVID-19 case rates in the district and area drop significantly.

The Board of Education voted 6–0 to maintain the mask requirement, which students can be opted out of by their parents.

Board member Robert Williams was absent. Dr. Ginger Carter, who voted no on the first iteration of the mandate, voted yes Tuesday night.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steven Barnett made the recommendation for the extension to the board.

“What we’re doing seems to be working,” Barnett said. “Instead of reviewing this every month, I would recommend we continue what we’re currently doing, reconsider that at a time when the rate in the community dropped significantly or January.”

School officials said there are currently 315 students in quarantine and 101 who tested positive Monday, the lowest number of positive cases since the first week of the school year.

Parents for and against masking made public comments.

Sam Pettyjohn, a Johnson City parent, said the mandate has worked and is the best thing schools can do with legislative barriers, including Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order banning universal mask mandates, in place.

“They’ve essentially eliminated some of those barriers that have gone up but also defaulting towards the mask wearing as the positive health behavior to promote,” Pettyjohn said. “That really seems to be increasing the number of folks that are complying and wearing their masks.”

Kelly Irwin, a parent of a student at Indian Trail Intermediate School, said the opt-out emphasized parent choice, but is concerned mandates will stay in place for a long time.

“I think people need to get back to normal life,” Irwin said. “My question to people that want to continue with masks, and that’s their choice, is when does it end?”

Johnson City Education Association President Joe Crabtree said students prefer masking if it means avoiding quarantine. Crabtree said students were very upset when told to go home.

“Our students would rather wear a mask to be at school than to not wear one and risk having to leave school again and be quarantined,” Crabtree said.

Dr. Barnett said the school system’s online COVID-19 dashboard will now include quarantines.

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