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See if your district still has a school mask mandate amid mask confusion in Tennessee

A young boy wearing a mask rests his head on a desk as he completes a worksheet.
After a federal judge ordered a temporary halt of a new Tennessee law prohibiting public schools from requiring masks was met with lawsuits, families, teachers, and administrators are confused.
Eli Imadali for Chalkbeat

This was post was originally published Nov. 15. It was last updated Nov. 16. Additions include: A change of policy in Germantown Municipal Schools.

Days after Gov. Bill Lee signed into law sweeping changes that restrict COVID safety protocols in Tennessee, families, teachers, and school officials remain confused about what it means for mask mandates in public schools.

Under the recent rollback, school boards are allowed to enact mask mandates only in the event of severe COVID conditions, for two-week time periods and on a school-by-school basis.

But U.S. District Judge Sheryl Lipman of Tennessee’s Western District said at a Friday hearing that her temporary injunction allowing masks mandates still stands in spite of the new law.

And on Sunday, U.S. District Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw ordered a temporary halt of the enforcement and implementation of the new anti-mask law, causing some school officials who had already announced masks would no longer be required to reverse course. Other districts, unsure of what to do, went with their previous decisions.

Here’s where select districts around the state stand as of Monday afternoon. The story will be updated to reflect districts’ current policies.

Arlington Community Schools: Masks are not required in Arlington Community Schools, officials announced in an email to families on Saturday.

Bartlett City Schools: Masks are optional in Bartlett City Schools, according to the district’s website.

Collierville Schools: As of Monday, masks remain optional in Collierville Schools. The policy may change, though, as officials get “a better idea of what’s happening” legally, said public information officer Jen Hannah.

Germantown Municipal Schools: After making masks optional on Monday, Germantown Municipal Schools officials reversed course Tuesday and required students and staff to again don face coverings “until further notice,” citing the ongoing legal battle. In a message to families Monday evening, communications coordinator Kate Crowder asked for students’ and parents’ patience as the case plays out.

Hamilton County Schools: Masks have not been required in Hamilton County Schools since Nov. 8, “in light of local COVID-19 trends, as well as the availability of vaccines to all students,” Janelle Drake, the district’s communications manager, said in an email on Tuesday.

Knox County Schools: Knox County Schools students and staff will continue to be required to wear masks at school while a federal court order remains in effect, said district spokeswoman Carly Harrington.

Lakeland School System: Masks became optional for students, staff, and visitors on Nov. 15. Superintendent Ted Horrell said the district’s legal counsel was reviewing ongoing litigation and “will issue updated guidance to our parents and students as necessary.”

Metro Nashville Public Schools: Despite the new laws, Metro Nashville Public Schools will continue mandating masks in classrooms. In a statement, Adrienne Battle, director of schools, said the district’s “strong desire is to get to a point where masks are no longer necessary, and our classroom environment looks like it did before the start of the pandemic.” But that’s not possible, she said, as the district reports dozens of cases among students every week and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to recommend universal masking rules in school buildings.

Millington Municipal Schools: Masks are not required until further notice, according to a Saturday post on the Millington Municipal Schools website.

Rutherford County Schools: Face coverings have not been required in Rutherford County Schools buildings since Nov. 9.

Shelby County Schools: Masks are still required. Chief of Staff Patrice Thomas said Monday that the district’s attorneys are currently “reviewing the application of the law.”

Williamson County Schools: The mandate will be lifted as of Tuesday following a school board vote on Monday evening. Superintendent William Golden said the change is justified based on a downward trend in new COVID cases among students and staff.

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