Students in summer programs at Williamson County Schools will not be required to wear masks on campus as COVID-19 protocols continue to be relaxed.

The WCS Board of Education discussed the matter during its May 13 board work session. As local cases have dropped below 300 active cases, Superintendent Jason Golden said face masks will not be mandatory beginning later this month. This move comes just days after Franklin Special School District announced it would also not require masks during summer programs.

“Short version is, we intend to switch from ‘mask required’ to ‘mask recommended or encouraged’ next Friday, [May] 21 when school lets out,” Golden said.

Because there are fewer students on campus during the summer—roughly 5% of students—he said they will be able to allow for more social distancing. Golden said the district has already eliminated mask requirements for students who are outside.

“Our numbers are really low and our pupil-teacher ratio is 15:1 during the summer, we’re able to spread people out,” he said. “We’ve concluded that the guidance that still is out requiring masks when still indoors is not applicable to what we’re going to be doing this summer.”

It is not yet clear how safety protocols will look when all students return in the fall. Should the district choose to implement a mask policy in the fall, board members could vote to adopt a new mask policy, per state guidelines, according to Williamson County Attorney Dana Ausbrooks. No such policy has been presented to date.

Golden said the district does not anticipate masks will be required this fall if trends continue and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to lessen restrictions. The district is not ready to definitively say if masks will be optional this fall, he said.

“We have no projection at this point,” Golden said. “We don’t anticipate that we will ask to require them, at most we anticipate an encouragement or recommendation or an option. I do believe that perpetually from now on, masks will be an option, no one’s ever going to stop someone from wearing a mask.”

However, one COVID-19 protocol still in place is the quarantining process, which Golden said is still being considered by the state health department. During the summer, the district will not use seating charts, which are often used to determine who is a close contact of someone confirmed to have COVID-19, Golden said. Going forward, fully-vaccinated students and staff will not be required to quarantine, per CDC guidance.

“What I can tell you is that with our students being socially distanced in the summer, we will not be doing seating charts,” Golden said.

Golden said guidance around COVID-19 is still changing, so district staff will continue to evaluate standards over the coming weeks.

Gary Anderson, executive director of COVID-19 response and former board of education chair, said the district will still complete cleaning routines that help keep COVID-19 cases in schools low.

“We’re seeing these trends be very positive for us,” Anderson said.