Masks required in all public and private schools in Shelby County

Close up of a student wearing a mask and headphones.
Masks will be required in all public and private daycares, preschools, and K-12 schools in Shelby County following a health order released by the Shelby County Health Department on Friday morning.  (Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action)

Masks will be required in all public and private daycares, preschools, and K-12 schools in Shelby County following an order released by the Shelby County Health Department on Friday morning. 

Shelby County Schools, which largely covers the city of Memphis, was the only district in the county to have its own mask mandate. Under the new order, face coverings will be required in private schools and the county’s other districts: Collierville Schools, Germantown Municipal School District, Bartlett City Schools, Arlington Community Schools, Lakeland School System, and Millington Municipal Schools. Some of the districts have already started their school year. Classes in Memphis start Monday. 

In a statement, the department said, “This amendment is deemed necessary because Health Department data indicates an alarming increase in pediatric COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. More than one quarter of the current active cases are among those 17 and younger. Regional hospitals also report an increase in COVID-19 pediatric cases, many of whom require intensive care and ventilatory support.”

At a press conference earlier this week, Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton threatened to withhold funding from any school district mandating masks.

Face coverings have been proven to reduce the spread of COVID. In July, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all students and school staff wear masks this year. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control later followed suit, issuing updated guidance that recommended “universal indoor masking by all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.” 

Despite this guidance from scientific and healthcare leaders, masks in schools have been a controversial issue nationwide, but especially in the South where a strong anti-mask movement has developed. 

One group, Parents Rise TN, scheduled a meeting in East Memphis earlier this week to plan a proactive response against mask and vaccine mandates. 

In an email announcing the meeting, organizers said, “It is our duty as parents to ensure our children are never subjected to health mandates again as a condition of full enjoyment of their education, put a stop to the social conditioning of fear, and take back our rights over our children’s health choices.”

Other parents expressed relief over Friday’s announcement. 

“I am thrilled,” said Katie Anderson, mother of a Bartlett second grader. 

She added, “The under-12 population is still vulnerable, as are others, and the delta variant is proving more dangerous to them, as well as more contagious. I applaud the Shelby County Health Department for taking this step to keep our kids safe and add an extra layer of protection to reduce transmission rates as we head into the fall.”

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