WASHINGTON COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The Washington County, Tennessee Board of Education met Thursday night at a special called meeting to discuss the school district’s COVID-19 protocols.

You can watch News Channel 11’s stream of the event below:

Superintendent Jerry Boyd made his recommendation to the board to require masks for faculty, staff and students while they are indoors and on school buses.

The recommendation passed 8-1.

The board’s decision comes as COVID-19 cases are surging at their highest level ever in Washington County Schools, according to Boyd. As of Thursday, there 161 students and 23 staff positive cases in district. 730 students and 36 students are quarantined. That represents 8.8% of the student population in quarantine.

Boyd also recommended that the schools adhere to Governor Bill Lee’s executive order that states parents may opt their children out of the mandate if they choose to fill out a form. Boyd said that form would be available to parents on the district website by the end of the day on Friday, August 20.

That makes Washington County’s policy virtually the same as the policy adopted last Friday by Johnson City Schools. Boyd said an opt-out would have likely been included regardless of Lee’s order.

“Prior to Tuesday, we were having similar conversations about we want to respect parents who don’t want to wear masks, but we have to put additional layers in place,” Boyd said.

School Board Chairman Jason Day said the mandate was necessary because schools cannot enter virtual learning under a different executive order from Lee.

“It kind of ties our hands as far as we have to do something,” Day said.

Boyd suggested that face coverings be required until September 21, at which time the board will review the data and decide upon further action.

“If it can get better we’ll do less and if we need to tighten down, we’ll look at that,” Day said.

Boyd said he hoped the mandate would increase mask coverage and keep more students in-seat.

“We want to at least see an increase in the number of individuals in our buildings wearing masks to lower the rate of transmission, for individuals to protect themselves but also others.”

Under Boyd’s recommendation, face shields would be counted as face coverings. He stated that would be especially important for younger grades who have a greater need to see facial expressions.

Staff members will not be able to opt out of the mandate.

The requirement will take effect Monday, August 23.