Masks optional for students and staff at Collierville schools

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Parents took to the podium at a school board meeting in Collierville Tuesday night to voice their opinions on whether students and staff should be required to wear masks when classes begin next month.

“I believe that masking is still important,” Cindy Murray said.

“We must all be given the opportunity to choose what is best for our children,” Michelle Hoffez said.

A feeling shared by most parents who attended the meeting.

“Any parent who feels unsafe can put their child in the virtual academy, get a child over 12-years-old vaccinated and they can have their child wear a mask,” Arlon Duke said, “Parents who want their children to attend school unimpeded by a face covering should have that right as well.”

The CDC now recommends masks for students, teachers, staff and visitors to schools regardless of vaccination status. However, Collierville, like most Mid-South districts, is currently mask-optional, encouraging the practice for unvaccinated individuals but not requiring it.

“This is really a hard thing,” school board chairman Wright Cox said, “These decisions are not made in a vacuum arbitrarily.”

COVID-19 cases in Shelby County are rising with more than 250 cases reported in recent days. Nearly a quarter of those are children 17 and younger. 

Dr. Stephen Threlkeld is an infectious disease expert at Baptist Memorial Hospital. He attributes most of the new cases to the fast-spreading Delta variant.

“We’ve known the numbers are going up dramatically. We know this is a much more contagious virus,” he said, “It is, in fact, a very different beast that we are facing now from what we faced before.”

In light of the CDC’s new guidelines, some mask-optional districts say they may change their stance but, right now, Shelby County Schools is the only area district requiring masks for students and staff whether they are vaccinated or not.

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