While still requiring the governor’s signature, a bill the General Assembly passed late last week in a special session devoted to COVID-19 would end Johnson’s existing mask policy City Schools, said Superintendent Steve Barnett.
âI can’t speak for the board of directors, but we follow the laws of the state, and when it becomes law, we will follow that,â Barnett told the Johnson City Press on Monday.
Board of Education chairperson Kathy Hall echoed the sentiment at a regular school board meeting on Monday night.
“When the governor signs these bills, we will change our protocols to ensure that we are consistent with the new state laws,” she said. “We will follow what the governor and our lawmakers have proposed, but not before they are actually laws.”
The Johnson City Board of Education approved a mask requirement in August that included an opt-out option for students. In September, the board of directors voted to extend this policy until January.
The new state bill prevents public schools from issuing mask warrants except in extreme circumstances, according to Chalkbeat Tennessee. Private schools may continue to require masks.
The legislation allows a school to approve a 14-day mask warrant if the governor has declared a state of emergency specific to COVID, the principal has called for universal masking, and the county’s sliding infection rate is at minus 1,000 cases per 100,000 over 14 days. No county in Tennessee currently meets the latter condition.
Barnett noted that the system’s numbers have improved a lot since the start of the school year.
Monday, the system reported 20 positive cases among students and zero among staff. This is a sharp drop from the August 20 total of 205, which was the highest tally for the current academic year. The system’s policy came into effect on August 17.
At last count, around a quarter of Johnson City students have been kicked out of the term.
Currently, parents must complete a form to remove their children. When the governor signs the bill, Johnson City School Safety Supervisor Greg Wallace said, that requirement will end and students will be free to attend classes without covering their faces.
Legislation passed during the special session will also change the way the system performs contact tracing, but Wallace said school officials are still working out those details.
When asked if it was appropriate for lawmakers to approve a bill limiting the masking policies of public schools, Barnett stressed that children between the ages of 5 and 11 will soon be able to receive COVID-19 vaccines.
Last Friday, the United States Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine for children in this age group.
âWhen it comes to timing, I think we’re on the verge of getting to a situation where all of our school-aged children and adults have the opportunity to get vaccinated,â Barnett said.
Barnett made no comment on the bill’s relevance and Hall told reporters lawmakers have already debated it.
“We will follow what they ask us to do,” she said.