Last week, Gov. Bill Lee removed the authority of most of Tennessee’s county mayors to impose mask mandates in their local communities. But what does that mean for schools?
Chalkbeat’s Marta Aldrich reports many are likely to keep them, at least for the rest of the school year.
Lee said it’s time to shift Tennessee’s focus away from COVID-related restrictions — and toward recovery. Lifting mask mandates is a key step in that direction, he said. But Lee’s press secretary clarified later that school systems have the authority to set their own mask policies based on local public health conditions.
Dale Lynch, who heads the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, says most Tennessee school leaders expect to continue mask and social distancing requirements for the rest of the academic year — if that’s been their policy so far during the pandemic.
“Obviously our students, our staff, and entire communities have worked with local boards of education and superintendents and administrators to put these safety protocols in place, and they’re working,” he says. “That’s how we got back in school in the first place here in Tennessee. That’s how we’ve been able to stay in school. And so I think that being so close to the end of the school year … we’re almost to the finish line and we don’t want to stop.”
Still, there may be some changes ahead, according to Lynch. He says district and school leaders will need to decide whether to require face coverings during summer school, graduations, and other end-of-year programs — especially those that are held outside.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to urge schools to prioritize universal and correct use of masks and physical distancing, even outdoors if in crowds.