Jonesborough students

Face masks were not required for students and faculty members attending the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Jonesborough Elementary School last week. Now they are no longer required in the classroom.

The Washington County School System has ended its face mask requirement.

Jerry Boyd, the county’s director of schools, has informed parents that as a result of Gov. Bill Lee signing recently-passed COVID-19 legislation into law on Friday, “Washington County Schools will no longer have a face covering requirement for any student, employee or visitor in any school building or bus.”

Earlier this year, the system adopted a policy requiring students, teachers and others on school grounds to wear face masks.

However, pursuant to an order by the governor limiting a school system’s ability to mandate face coverings, parents were allowed to opt their children out of the local mask requirement

“Effective immediately, face coverings are optional,” the new directive says. “Individual employees and students may continue to wear face coverings for personal protection if they so choose.”

Officials with Johnson City Schools announced on Friday that their system has also ended its mask requirement.

The city mask policy allowed parents to opt their children out of the requirement by filling out an online form. As a result, nearly a quarter of the school system’s students were exempted from the policy.

Last week, the governor signed into law legislation passed by the state General Assembly to prohibit local governments from implementing COVID-19 mandates and preventing private businesses from taking action against unvaccinated employees.

Lee also signed a new law requiring school systems to follow an intricate process before requiring face masks on a school-by-school basis.

Under the new law, Tennessee’s commissioner of health has the only authority to determine quarantine guidelines. The Northeast Regional Health Department will be responsible for all contract tracing of COVID-19 cases in Washington County, including any communication to a resident of an exposure to a positive COVID-19 case.

Officials with Washington County Schools say the system “will continue to follow all allowable measures to prevent the spread of any communicable disease that could endanger the health of either an individual or others in the regular school setting.”

The directive also notes: “If or when an individual student or employee has a communicable disease that may endanger the health of either himself or herself or other individuals in a school setting, the individual will be excluded from the school setting until certification is obtained from a physician or the county Health Department that the disease is no longer communicable.”

Further information and updates on the pandemic policy for Washington County Schools can be found at www.wcde.org.

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Press Senior Reporter

Robert Houk has served as a journalist and photographer at the Press since 1987. He is a recipient of the Associated Press Managing Editors Malcom Law Award for investigative reporting.

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