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Oak Ridge Schools becomes first East TN district to require masks for staff and students

Most districts are making face coverings "optional" for students and teachers unless state mandates change.

OAK RIDGE, Tennessee — If Jonie Brooks' two children show up to fourth and sixth grade this year, they'll be wearing their face masks — regardless of whether Knox County Schools says they have to. 

"We wear masks to protect other people, not to protect ourselves," Brooks said. "If I send them back, then they will wear a mask. It's the least that we can do."

Jonie Brooks said she's concerned about the number of districts choosing not to require masks. 

"It bothers me," she said. "I feel like we're not taking the safety of the teachers and the other students in account."

Parent Chad Riggs has two children enrolled in school: one entering fifth grade and the other a rising high school senior. He would support a mask mandate for his older kid, but not his elementary school student.

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"My high schooler would probably do just about anything to have a good solid senior year," Riggs told 10News. "My major concern is for my elementary school, my fifth grader, because talking with them, they are adamantly opposed to it." 

He worries a mask mandate could distract them from learning or make them not want to go to school. Plus, there's a lot of logistics involved with enforcing such a rule. 

That's partially why Jefferson County chose to make masks optional for the time being.

"It's hard to keep kids in dress code and that just adds another layer. What are we going to do with child that forgets his [mask]?" said Dr. Shane Johnston, Jefferson County's Director of Schools. "But it could come to the point where in order for us to continue to have in-person school, that we will have to require masks."

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He said they'll defer to state and local health department guidance on that decision.

On Thursday evening, Oak Ridge Schools became the first district to require masks for everyone. Superintendent Dr. Bruce Borchers said the change came after reviewing the current situation.

"Students and staff are expected and will be required to wear face coverings when physical distancing is not possible," he wrote in an email to parents. "Students and staff who have a medical condition that makes the wearing of a face covering problematic are asked to consult your building principal. Such needs will be considered on a case-by-case basis."

10News is reviewing school re-opening plans across East Tennessee. As of July 9, here's what districts have mask policies. Full re-opening details can be found here

Alcoa: Staff members will wear a face covering in common areas, large gatherings, class changes, anytime outside their classroom, and in the classroom when they cannot maintain social distance of at least 6 feet and model those opportunities with their students. Face coverings will be available to every student and staff member in grades 6-12 upon request. Students in grades Pre-K through 5 are strongly encouraged to wear a face covering during congested transitions (changing classes, dismissal) and when working in close proximity to peers and adults. Students in grades 6 through 12 are expected to wear face coverings when physical distancing is difficult.

Anderson: Face covering for students/staff are recommended but not mandatory. Anderson County Schools cannot be responsible for students who refuse to keep the mask on for the entire day. Face covering for staff will be required for certain instructional settings. A mask will be provided for all students and staff. Face coverings will also be required on school buses.

Blount: Face coverings for students are recommended but not mandatory

Campbell:  Masks are preferred but not required.

Claiborne: Students and staff may wear masks if they wish. The mask fabric design may not be distracting and must follow the dress code. The CDC recommends the use of masks; however, CCBOE will not mandate masks for students. CCBOE encourages the use of masks. The CCBOE will require food services and visitors to wear masks in the school building where feasible.

Clinton City Schools: While masks are recommended, we will not require masks to be worn all day by teachers or students. Parents may request that their child wear a mask during the school day, and in an effort to respect individual preferences, CCS will acknowledge the request and try to reasonably and respectfully support it. Clinton City Schools cannot be responsible for students who refuse to keep the mask on for the entire day, as everyone must understand the reality of the situation. CCS requests that each child bring a mask on the first day of school. This will be kept in a zip lock bag and may be used at specific times. Any and all mask donations are greatly appreciated.

Cocke County Schools: TBD

Cumberland County Schools: TBD

Fentress County Schools: TBD

Grainger County Schools: Masks recommended or required for staff and students as feasible and indicted by state guidelines and health updates. Requirements will be adjusted as indicated by traditional or blended schedule, number of active cases and other health updates.

Hamblen County Schools: TBD

Hancock County Schools: Masks will be available if students choose to wear one.

Jefferson County Schools: Currently, student masks are optional, but parents should prepare for the possibility of this becoming a requirement. Food service employees required to wear mask when preparing and serving food. Use of face masks is a personal choice. If masks are deemed inappropriate or offensive as determined by the school administrator, the student will be directed to replace the mask with another or not wear a mask.

Knox County Schools: TBD

Lenoir City Schools: TBD

Loudon County Schools: Masks will be optional for students, but schools will also provide them or students who want to wear one but can't bring their own.

Maryville City Schools: All faculty and staff are required to wear a face-covering in common areas, large gatherings, class changes, anytime outside their classroom, and in the classroom when they cannot social distance of at least 6 feet. All school visitors are required to wear a mask. Every effort will be made in elementary (K-3) and intermediate (4-7) schools to keep students in small cohorts and minimize mixing between groups. Students are strongly encouraged to wear a face-covering on buses, during congested transitions (changing classes, dismissal), and when working in close proximity to peers and adults. Students in grades 8-12 are expected to wear face coverings when physical distancing is difficult. While the district does not intend to require mask-wearing as part of the enforceable dress code, the faculty and staff will make it clear it is a strongly encouraged and expected practice. When students can be socially distanced of 6 feet within classrooms, then mask prompting and encouragement will lessen. However, in crowded spaces (changing classes, riding a bus, transitional breaks, close proximity environments, interactive student work sessions) reminders and prompts to wear a mask will be issued from teachers and administrators. In addition, announcements, posters, and daily communication will detail the merits of wearing a mask throughout the school day. A face covering will be provided to every student and staff member in grades 8-12.

Monroe County Schools: TBD

Morgan County Schools: Masks will be required for all students on a bus. Masks will be made available. Face coverings for students will be optional in school buildings. Face coverings for staff will be encouraged.

Oak Ridge Schools: After reviewing the current situation, students and staff are expected and will be required to wear face coverings when physical distancing is not possible. Students and staff who have a medical condition that makes the wearing of a face covering problematic are asked to consult your building principal. Such needs will be considered on a case-by-case basis. 

Oneida Schools: TBD

Roane County Schools: TBD

Scott County Schools: TBD

Sevier County Schools: While students will not be required to wear masks in Phase 3, they are strongly recommended, especially in settings where social distancing is difficult, where many students are present, and when students are exposed to those other than their normal classmates. The use of face masks may be required should a change in Phases occur or on the advice of government officials.

Sweetwater City Schools: TBD

Union County Schools: Students will be required to wear masks on the buses to and from school. They will also be required to wear masks in areas where social distancing is not feasible. They will be provided by the school if not available for students.

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