MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County Schools opened their doors for the first day of class on Monday and it’s not without some concern.
The start of the 2021 school year is starting with more Covid cases in Shelby County than on day one of the 2020 school year. This year most kids will be in school, and not at home. Virtual learning is an option, but without teacher instruction.
In the past year vaccines have become available to everyone 12 and older, but as of this weekend, fewer than one in five teens who are eligible for the vaccine in Shelby County have been vaccinated.
With that in mind, masks and social distancing will be required in local schools, including Shelby County Schools. That school district decided to require masks a few weeks ago, then on Friday the Shelby County Health Department mandated them for all schools.
Now Tennessee Republicans are threatening to call a special session that would ban school districts from mandating masks.
“I fully support a special session of the legislature to rein in the power of local health departments,” said state Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) on his Facebook page. “Our Shelby County Mayor should not be able to force parents and publicly elected school boards to require their children to wear masks—and certainly not in private schools either!”
Tennessee Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton was asked over the weekend why he wants to ban mask mandates when masks have been shown to keep kids healthy.
“That would have been a great argument last year before Shelby County closed down their schools when they said they didn’t have the ventilation or the air system in place to wear a mask and go to school. Now all of the sudden I guess they have the capability to go to school,” he said. “Now they’re saying they have to wear a mask. You know you can’t say one thing last year and come back this year and change your whole tune. My situation is the parents should make that decision for themselves. We’re not telling people not to wear a mask. We’re not telling school boards right now they can’t mandate masks but I’m hoping we’ll have a special session and we’ll see what comes out of it.
“Florida did something today that I’m very intrigued by and I think that’s what we should do which is if the parents disagree with the school boards having a mask mandate, then they should have the school choice where the parents can pull the kids out, take their money and go to any school that they want to,” he added.
Jerica Phillips with Shelby County Schools responded to the potential special session Monday saying the district would follow any laws passed.