Memphis district will require masks next school year

Jariel Acosta, 8, wearing a face mask.
Masks will be mandatory in Memphis schools during the upcoming school year which starts August 9. Memphis students will also be required to wear masks on school buses and continue social distancing practices. (David Handschuh for Chalkbeat)

Masks will be mandatory in Memphis classrooms during the upcoming school year. 

District officials will require all students, teachers, and school-based employees to wear face coverings, making Shelby County Schools one of the only school districts in Tennessee to maintain the strict COVID-19 protocol. Other districts, including Metro Nashville Public Schools, have made masks optional for the new school year. 

Memphis Superintendent Joris Ray made the announcement Tuesday evening during his report at the Shelby County Schools board meeting.

“These are some 2021 guidance that I know that many of our parents have been asking for,” he said. “We’re going to continue to wear masks until further notice.”

Ray added that the decision was driven by the latest guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which recommended masks for all unvaccinated students, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, which on Monday recommended masks for all students next school year.

Adults and children 12 and over are now eligible to be vaccinated.

Despite pandemic fatigue and resistance from some groups that refuse to mask up, face coverings have proved to slow the spread of COVID-19. Local health officials and medical experts are particularly concerned about the spread of the virus locally, given the rise of the more contagious Delta variant and the low vaccination rates in the South. Only 38.6% of people are fully vaccinated in Tennessee, and according to reporting from the New York Times, the state has one of the highest rates of new cases in the country, making it a hotspot for what has been called a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

Memphis students will also be required to wear masks on school buses and continue social distancing practices, and they will be discouraged from sharing supplies. The district will use plexiglass barriers and maintain the disinfectant protocols established last school year. 

“We’ll continue to monitor the CDC and the Health Department guidance for updates and recommendations,” said Ray. “We want to ensure that all of our employees and students and constituents remain safe.”

The first day of school for students in Shelby County Schools is Aug. 9.

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