Masks still required in all Shelby County schools, health department director says

Published: Nov. 15, 2021 at 6:53 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - There’s growing confusion over whether students are required to wear masks at schools in Shelby County.

The Shelby County Health Department says masks are still required.

But some school districts say masks are now optional.

Shelby County Schools says it will continue to require masks for now. That’s what the county says all school districts in Shelby County should be doing.

Friday, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed legislation, banning school mask mandates.

But on the same day, a federal judge in Memphis said SCHD must continue to enforce its health order, which requires students wear masks at school.

Sunday, another federal judge in Nashville doubled down, temporarily blocking the new state law from being implemented.

“That federal order is in place and the new law does not supersede that federal order,” said SCHD Director Dr. Michelle Taylor. “Nothing has changed from the stance of the Shelby County Health Department because there is an order from a federal judge that says universal masking is to remain in place.”

In a memo sent to school officials across Shelby County Monday, Shelby County Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph said not only does the county’s school mask mandate remain in place, he also added that “any instance of students, teachers, staff or visitors not wearing masks while indoors at school is a violation of Health Order No. 27, and consequently, the court orders as well.”

But suburban school districts like Germantown, Collierville, and Millington say masks would be optional for students Monday, citing the new state law.

Action News 5 reached out to all six suburban districts Monday, after Randolph sent the memo, to see if they had any plans to update their masking policy.

We heard back from the Lakeland and Collierville school districts, who referred us to their statements issued over the weekend, saying masks are optional for now.

Later Monday evening, Germantown Municipal School District said students will be required to mask up in class. The district released the following response:

GMSD to follow Nashville Federal Judge’s order to continue requiring masks

“Over the weekend, we issued a notice to parents stating that a new state law took effect on Friday which prohibited mandatory mask wearing. Over the same weekend, a lawsuit was filed in Nashville requesting that the Federal Judge stop the state law from taking effect.

Sunday, the Federal Judge in Nashville specifically ordered that the parties “maintain the status quo”, as of Thursday, November 11. At today’s status conference, it is our understanding that the Federal Judge specifically stated that because one of the Plaintiffs in the new lawsuit is a student at Germantown Municipal School District, the Germantown Municipal School District must maintain its mask wearing requirement as of Thursday, November 11. Therefore, since masks were required in our school district as of Thursday, November 11, we will follow the Judge’s order and continue requiring masks in our schools until further notice. We ask for your patience while this case is being decided.”

Those districts did say they are reviewing the recent court decisions and will update their mask policy as needed.

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