In a room where nary a soul was wearing a face covering, Williamson County Schools Superintendent Jason Golden let it be known that the district’s nearly yearlong mask mandate is coming to an end.
The fact that it’s expiring on the last day of school — a half-day Friday, May 21 — perhaps makes the gesture more symbolic in nature, but Golden gave the news more punch by stating the requirement will likely not return for the start of the 2021-22 school year. In fact, he said a specific safety plan addressing COVID-19 won’t be necessary at all going forward.
“We don’t have any recommendation to make a plan for returning to school like what we had for this school year,” Golden told district staff and Board of Education members who met Thursday for the monthly work session. “We are projecting that the vaccines and the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines will have evolved so much over the summer that it won’t be necessary.
“As we sit here now knowing that next week will be the end of the school year, what I can tell you is that the return to school plan you all voted on and approved for this school year expires. Our professionals don’t see the need to continue the mask requirement because of numbers.”
May’s school board work session was the first to be held in person in nearly a year, and it happened to come on the heels of the CDC’s announcement Thursday afternoon that those who have been fully vaccinated no longer needed to wear a mask outdoors or indoors in most cases. Smiling faces could be seen throughout the large room at the WCS Professional Development facility.
Grins were bolstered by facts and figures shared by Gary Anderson, former school board member who was hired last summer as executive director of the district’s COVID Response team. He pointed out, for instance, that all of Williamson County had only 244 cases of the coronavirus as of Thursday, numbers that have been trending downward for the past three to four weeks.
“We’re seeing these trends being very positive for us,” Anderson said. “We’ve looked at it school by school, class by class, program by program, and we’ve been able to make decisions and get students and adults who have COVID out of the classroom as soon as possible.”
He also noted a trend having to do with virus cases and the age qualifications for getting the vaccine. Teens 16 years and older have been eligible for the shots for a few weeks now, and numbers of cases for students in that age range are dropping while most virus cases are being found in middle school students. Children in that age range —12-15 — became eligible for the vaccine in the last week or so, meaning numbers of cases should start to decline soon for them as well.
“We also recently found that 32 schools [in WCS] had zero cases of COVID, while 15 had one or two cases, and only three schools had more than three cases. Everything has trended the way we want it to trend.”
While some board members voiced concern about quarantine and contact tracing methods, there was a general welcoming of the news that masks will no longer be required as long as trends continue in a positive manner.
“I say let’s take this as a win,” said K.C. Haugh, who represents District 11. “I’m optimistic the trends are going to continue as they are. It’s encouraging so much more of the community has gotten vaccinated on a very quick basis, so I’m comfortable with the plan or lack of a plan for the new school year, and quite encouraged with what I’m hearing tonight.”
Candy Emerson, District 8, was particularly enthusiastic about plans to end the mask requirement, saying many of her constituents and family members have been eagerly waiting for this news.
“I’ve got people that are going to be thrilled, absolutely thrilled to know that the mask mandate is dead, it’s gone,” she said. “It has been a bane of people’s existence and their quality of life, and the fact that we’re going to allow people to make decisions on how comfortable they are with masks and whether they need to wear one or not, that’s going to be a huge thing. This has been a major concern for people in my district, and I’m so delighted about this great piece of news.”
Thursday’s 4½-hour work session can be viewed here. The board will have its regular meeting Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the Williamson County Administrative Complex, and it will also be livestreamed. Click here to see the agenda.