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School Board updates COVID precautions

By Meg Dickens
Freelance Writer

The Johnson County School Board has been discussing controversies surrounding Covid-19 precautions since the beginning of the pandemic. During its September meeting, officials passed a mask mandate for staff. The public showed unease at this decision, and two community members showed up at this month’s meeting to share their views on enforcing mask usage. Now officials have decided to repeal last month’s decision.
Per discussion, the chief reason officials passed the mask mandate was to decrease staff quarantine, which multiple officials explained could lead to school closures. During a presentation by Board Member Mike Payne, he explained that, in this past week alone, ten teachers who would have been quarantined were able to stay on campus because of the new masking rule. After the learning loss related to distance learning last school year, personnel are doing all in their power to keep in-person learning intact.
According to Payne’s presentation, COVID cases have decreased in schools since the mandate was issued, but officials cannot determine whether it is a coincidence or a byproduct. Carlton reports that masking helped with various problems, including the flu last year, but other factors are at play. Nurse Practitioner and School Nurse Wendy Henley explained that Johnson County’s “numbers are lowest,” only sharing
a “borderline tie” with
Unicoi County, and other districts are reaching out to see what local officials have been doing.
“I don’t know,” Henley told the board when asked about the effectiveness of masks. “I believe in the mask.
I’ve tested a lot of people. I’ve had it in my household twice. I’ve worn my mask
the entire time, and I’ve not had it. I think [masking] works.”
Change may be on the wind. While officials
repealed the mask mandate, they intend to reevaluate during the November meeting or earlier if necessary. Student mask mandates are making a comeback
in other counties, according to Chairman Howard
Carlton. As previously reported, law proceedings decided
that officials could not
mandate mask use for
children, but parents in multiple counties are reportedly filing lawsuits asking for protection for their children and winning. That has not happened statewide yet, but Carlton reports that it is “another challenge the county could potentially face in the future.”
So guest speakers may still have to “hold their breaths,” awaiting a new decision from above. At this time, staff and students are allowed to wear masks if they feel more comfortable, but no rules are in place to enforce usage. Like most of the decisions amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, officials will wait and see what course of action seems the best.
“One of the things we’ve struggled with for two years
is masks or no masks,
distance or not distance, in school, out of school, or
virtual school,” Carlton explained. “We’ve been very diligent in trying to keep our kids in school. That’s our whole purpose in doing this; to try and keep our schools going.”
At the time of this article, the Tennessee Department
of Health reports that
Johnson County has 110 active cases of COVID, has
had 108 hospitalizations,
and 45 deaths. Including
staff and students, Johnson County Schools currently has 33 active cases and 129 in quarantine as of its last COVID update on October 8. For more information on general COVID numbers, visit tn.gov/health. See Johnson County Schools numbers through its COVID Dashboard located at
jocoed.net.

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