JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – On Friday, the Johnson City Board of Education voted to implement a temporary mask mandate for all staff, students, and visitors to schools in their district starting on Aug. 17 and ending on Sept. 10.
While Johnson City Schools is the first school district in Northeast Tennessee to implement any kind of mandate this school year, students can be opted out of the requirement.
While officials with the school district and school board hope students do not opt-out, they told News Channel 11 they understand parents may have certain reservations regarding their child wearing a mask, hence why they’re offering the opt-out option.
The form to opt-out children within the district went live on the Johnson City Schools website on Sunday at 5 p.m. and since going live, several hundred students have already been opted-out.
“We’ve had several hundred opt-out already,” Supervisor of Secondary and Instructional Technology, Dr. David Timbs. “Of course, we’re seeing more opt-out at the middle school and the high school level which is what we expected because that’s where we have more students and that’s where we also have a lot of students who’ve already been eligible for the vaccine.”
The forms are digital and separated by school. If parents don’t have access to the online form, they can also pick up a hard copy at the corresponding school.
The decision to implement a mandate comes just a week after a letter signed by over 30 local physicians was released. In the letter, doctors from across the Tri-Cities urged regional superintendents to strongly consider mandating masks on campus. Johnson City School Board Chair Kathy Hall said the letter did play a role in their decision but it was mainly input from parents.
“In the end, my emails are pretty much running 4-to-1 for a mask mandate,” said Hall.
Dr. Blair Reece was one of the physicians who signed the letter. “Asking our children and teachers to wear a mask, is a very small inconvenience to possibly save a life,” said Reece.
She said a mask is a great line of defense against the virus and for those younger students not yet eligible to get the vaccine, it’s their only defense.
Hall hopes the majority of students follow the mandate in order to slow the spread within their school district.
“This is not forever, this is not for the rest of the school year, this is right now for a 4-week period of time. I think if we all do our part and wear a mask, and those that can get vaccinated, get vaccinated, then we’ll see a change,” said Hall.
Parents can choose to opt their child out of the mask requirement at any point until Sept. 10. Masks will still be required on all school transportation and buses.