OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — A few schools in East Tennessee are choosing to mandate masks for students and staff as classes return for the fall semester, but as of August 10 -- most are returning without requiring them.
Gov. Bill Lee announced a statewide executive order allowing parents to opt children out of any mask mandates imposed in schools. Some schools with mandates are allowing parents to opt their children out by contacting school administration to fill out the appropriate paperwork.
Spanish Version: Lista de escuelas del Este de Tennessee requiriendo mascarillas
Schools that are requiring masks currently:
►Oak Ridge Schools (Parents allowed to opt out through form)
►Lake City Middle School, Norwood Middle School, Briceville Elementary School, and Grand Oak Elementary School in Anderson County (Parents allowed to opt out through form)
►Andersonville Elementary School (Parents allowed to opt out through form; will last until positive cases go below 2%)
►Hancock County Schools
►Willow Brooke Elementary School in Oak Ridge
►Newport City Schools in Cocke County
►Knoxville Catholic Schools with an option to opt-out (mandate lasts from Sept. 7 - Oct. 1)
►McCreary County School District in Kentucky will require universal masking indoors and on school buses whenever students are present until October 31.
More than half of Kentucky’s school districts have opted to continue requiring masks since the legislature shifted the coronavirus-related policy decision to local school boards.
90 of the state’s 171 public school districts had signaled by Tuesday afternoon that they'll continue requiring masks in schools.
The Kentucky School Boards Association is tracking the local decisions.
More school boards were scheduled to meet Tuesday night to discuss mask policies.
Last week, the Republican-led legislature voted to scrap a statewide mask mandate for public schools.
Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear says there's “one right answer.” He says that's for districts to require masks.
Parents and teachers calling for bringing back masks mandates in schools is happening amid ongoing concerns about rapidly rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, particularly among the unvaccinated. Children under 12 are still unable to receive any of the COVID vaccines.
Officials with Oak Ridge Schools said the mask mandate will end when the number of active cases decreases and the rate of transmission falls, officials said.
Officials said they will monitor data and make decisions on when to mandate masks at specific schools, instead of implementing a district-wide mask mandate. They also emphasized that policies requiring masks at one point during the school year do not necessarily mean masks will be required for the whole year.
"This approach will allow us to address the current need at each building rather than making a district-wide decision that isn’t necessary," they said in a letter sent to parents on Friday.
Across the district, 19 student cases of COVID-19 have been reported along with 4 staff cases. One person has recovered from it so far. Information about COVID-19 in Oak Ridge Schools is available online and is updated daily.
In Sevier County, the school board said it is recommending masks, but not requiring them yet.
In Knox County, the school board has yet to make a firm decision after it questioned its own ability to implement and enforce such rules in early August. The board scheduled a meeting in September to discuss the board's powers.