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Knox County Schools board set to discuss mask policy for upcoming school year

Parents will know the board's decision on April 14. They can choose to go with virtual or in-person learning for the school year on the following day.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — The Knox County Board of Education will be making a big decision in the coming weeks: masks or no masks for the upcoming school year. They met Wednesday night, April 7, for a work session and to discuss the decision.

Right now the school district's policy includes mask requirements for students and staff district-wide, but that could change. 

Spanish Version: Junta de KCS se prepara para discutir política sobre uso de las mascarillas para el próximo año escolar

A change in policy could impact Knox County parents making yet another choice of whether or not to send their child to school in-person or go with virtual learning. 

The school board is postponed the original date of April 15. The date for a final decision has not yet been announced. 

"What the plan is saying is that we want to follow the guidelines about mask-wearing," said Knox County Education Association president Tanya Coats. 

The current policy says KCS will follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent and from the local health departments, which means masks must be worn district-wide.

Also instead of staying six feet apart, the CDC said that students can sit three feet apart with masks.

Coats said the upcoming discussions could lead to age exemptions for younger students. 

"We agree it's challenging," she said. "Kids can't hear you, we're not articulating." 

She also said pulling on masks can be a distraction away from lessons for younger students. 

In a letter to the board, Superintendent Bob Thomas said he is recommending, based on the current pandemic situation, that Knox County Schools continue to follow CDC and local and state health department guidelines, including mask-wearing.

"Parents will get those guidelines like a reopening plan," said Coats. "They will know on April 14 this is what is set in writing through KCS Connect."

Knox County parent Eric Moore wants to see the district continue its current plan and to continue following guidelines from the CDC.

His children have underlying conditions, which can make them at-risk for COVID-19. Returning to school maskless and in-person without the CDC's recommendation is something he's not willing to risk. 

"It's just very stressful for parents," he said. "I don't think virtual school is the best for my children."

Coats said that she ensures a decision will be made with all kids in mind. 

"It's my sincere hope that we would get back to in-person learning maskless as soon as we could, because we did the right thing at the beginning," said Moore. 

If the board chooses to follow continue the current policy, there is a possibility the mask policy would be lifted later on in the school year if health leaders recommend it.

Parents will know the board's decision on April 14. They're able to choose between virtual or in-person learning the following day.