The Metro Nashville Public Schools Board of Education introduced a new mask policy specifically for the Promising Scholars summer program at its Tuesday night meeting.
Board members, including Chair Christiane Buggs, were quick to clarify that the policy did not apply to the 2021-22 school year, for which a policy has not been decided.
Starting June 14, students and staff at Promising Scholars will be allowed to take off their masks while outdoors and when socially distanced in a classroom.
Students will still have to wear masks when moving between classrooms and other spaces, on school buses, inside any building and any time they are in large gatherings.
Students with underlying medical conditions are still encouraged to wear masks at all times.
“Masks have been an important safety measure in our efforts to combat the pandemic caused by COVID-19, and we will continue to highly encourage them and employ them in strategic ways to reduce the possible spread or transmission of the virus in our buildings,” MNPS Director of Schools Adrienne Battle said in a statement sent out immediately after the policy was unanimously approved.
“Our updated protocols reflect the changing conditions in our buildings, moving to a 13:1 student-to-teacher ratio during Promising Scholars, as well as the continued reduction in community transmission of the virus throughout Davidson County.”
At the board meeting, Battle told board members that the policy for Promising Scholars does not necessarily reflect future policies, which could be stricter or looser based on the spread of COVID-19.
The decision to loosen them for Promising Scholars came in part due to the reduced spread of COVID-19 in Davidson County since mask requirements were lifted by the Metro Public Health Department in May.
The seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 residents is at its lowest rate since March 2020, the MNPS statement said, and the COVID-19 risk score, which helped MNPS set policies during the 2020-21 school year, has declined to 1.3 out of 10.
The district will continue to watch and adapt its mask policies as needed moving forward, Battle said.
“I applaud Dr. Battle’s measured approach to mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and keeping students safe,” said Dr. James Hildreth, president and CEO of Meharry Medical College and a member of the Biden-Harris COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. ”I’m strongly encouraged by the decline in COVID-19 cases throughout the community and encourage everyone who is eligible for a vaccine to do so in order to further stop this virus and enable a return to normalcy.”
As mask requirements change, MNPS will still offer students the opportunity to participate in a random COVID-19 testing program offered through Meharry, as well as a contact tracing program handled by school nurses.
The district will reveal a mask policy for the 2021-22 school year as the year approaches and the state of COVID-19 at that time of year becomes clear.