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Masks remain optional for many school districts in Shelby Co.

Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 4:32 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - With almost two weeks to go until the start of school for much of Shelby County, the county health department is saying it’s up to each district to decide what health protocols to enact in class.

So far, most municipal school districts have decided to make masks optional.

The Shelby County Health Department (SCHD) continues to say unvaccinated people should wear masks and practice social distancing, while having its official position be districts are best fit to decide what will work best for their students and staff.

School districts in Lakeland, Arlington, Bartlett, and Millington have decided to make masking in schools optional.

“It’s darned if you do, darned if you don’t,” said Millington Municipal Schools’ Director Bo Griffin. “You want to do everything you can to keep your students and your staff safe.”

Griffin said the district’s full back to school plan is still being written. It is expected to include recommendations for three feet of social distancing in classes as well as extra cleaning and periodic hand washing breaks.

After seeing differing recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommends unvaccinated people mask in schools and the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommending universal masking, the district decided it would be the choice of the parent.

“What we can do is work with our community and say hey, if your child wants to wear a mask, we’ll let the teachers know that,” Griffin said. “If you don’t want your child to wear a mask, we understand that.”

It’s that choice the SCHD said schools have at this time.

“We don’t have a mandate. Health directive 23 pretty much makes recommendations. It’s the schools’ governing body who will decide what measures will best protect their students, teachers, and staff,” said Shelby County Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph.

“I don’t understand how that decision can be made,” said Bartlett parent Derrick Hamilton.

Hamilton is a Mid-South pediatrician and parent of students at Bartlett City Schools. He was surprised to hear about optional masking at the district, especially as the Delta variant is causing an increase in COVID-19 patients.

“I think it would be somewhat irresponsible for kids who we know are unvaccinated, under the age of 12, to basically be placed in a classroom with their peers and potentially be exposed to COVID,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said his children will be wearing masks to school.

Shelby County Schools has said it will require masks. Collierville and Germantown school districts are still working on plans.

WMC’s requests for interviews were not granted by Lakeland, Bartlett ,and Arlington school districts Thursday.

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