KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — (UPDATE 7/9/21): Masks in Knox County Schools will continue to be optional in the upcoming school year after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday it would relax mask guidelines in schools.
The CDC said students, teachers and staff who've been vaccinated for COVID-19 no longer need to wear masks inside schools.
The changes were announced amid a national vaccination campaign in which children as young as 12 are eligible to get shots, as well as a general decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.
The Knox County Board of Education voted in late April to end the school system's mask requirement after the spring semester ended on May 26, making them optional for summer classes regardless of a person's vaccination status.
The board voted on an amendment to the former mask policy, which ended the face-covering requirement. This amendment got rid of the sunset timeline of August 1, 2021. Schools will follow current Tennessee Department of Health recommendations.
Before the April vote, KCS had announced it would tailor its policy to federal and state guidance.
The vote came weeks after the board failed to vote on ending the policy early during a special-called meeting in late April. Members failed to even approve the agenda, so it never came to a vote.
The policy, C-240, required students in kindergarten through 12th grade, employees and visitors to wear a mask while in school. They are also required to wear a mask while riding school-provided transportation, specifically covering the nose and mouth.
Many Knox County parents wanted a decision made by the end of the school year.
Mom and daughter Meredith and Brady Kuester skipped work and school to be at the last meeting. Brady Kuester is a senior at West High School.
They believe the district should fall in line with the state and county guidelines and give students the chance to choose.
"They don't have any choice, they are being forced with punishment or derision by their classmates," Meredith Kuester said. "Just let us as parents or students make that decision"
Parent Eric Moore had six children learning virtually. At the time of the BOE vote, he thought KCS should hold to their promise and follow the CDC guidance.
"To remove that requirement, in a situation in which I don't have the option to move my children from one setting to another, would feel extremely disrespectful," Moore said.
Knox County Education Association president Tanya Coats said the board should have better things to worry about, like the budget and staff pay.
"With 18 days of school, I wish that this was not an urgency, because we've done a great job to this point," Coats explained.