As many students in Williamson County Schools prepare to return to school Aug. 6, many families are looking forward to how the 2021-22 school year will look compared to last year's during the 2020 COVID-19 surge.

One big change students will see is a relaxing of mask requirements on campus. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced new recommendations that included individuals in a K-12 school setting wear a mask, WCS will not require masks. However, they will be strongly recommended, especially for students younger than 12 years old who are ineligible to receive a vaccine.

In an online report Aug. 3, WCS Superintendent Jason Golden said the district is working to ensure students and staff who continue to wear masks will feel comfortable doing so.

"We are emphasizing and re-emphasizing to our staff that it is absolutely important to honor those who choose to wear a mask," Golden said. "I have an anticipation that many of our teachers in certain settings will wear a mask and sometimes they might not. But we do know that many parents have a concern, and I think all of us should continue to have a concern about this virus. We're making it a priority that we are going to support and honor those who choose to wear a mask. We are encouraging it and we're recommending it, especially in a school setting."

Golden said while the district will be only recommending masks, that could change during the school year as cases fluctuate. In recent weeks, active cases in Williamson County have risen by more than 2,000%, according to data from the Tennessee Department of Health. Golden said the district is considering community factors, such as vaccination rates and new cases.

"The reality is that may change," Golden said. "We don't know what the future holds with the pandemic and that's trite, but it's true. I want everyone to know that we're going to continue to monitor this, especially in the context of masks."

Golden said should the district move to require masks, the decision would require board approval before it can be enforced.

According to the district, students exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 will also be sent home, in accordance to WCS board policy, which applies to all communicable disease. Additionally, quarantines will still be in place for unvaccinated individuals as those decisions come from the county health department, not the school district.

"We will honor those quarantines," Golden said. "If the health department says you need to be quarantined, you can't come to school campus either, so that is still going on from the health department."

However, Golden said the district expects quarantines may be less of an issue this school year as many students and staff have been vaccinated. While Williamson County is still below the threshold of vaccinations needed to stop community spread, it has the highest rate of fully-vaccinated residents in the state at 51.09%, according to the TDOH.

While vaccines are encouraged by the TDOH, students and staff will not be required to have or show proof of COVID-19 vaccinations.

The district has recommended the following mitigation strategies that will be in place over the next school year:

  • Students and staff should stay home if they are sick or have a fever.

  • Social distancing of at least 3 feet will be enforced when possible.

  • Students will be in cohort groups when social distancing is not possible.

  • High-touch surfaces will continue to be disinfected.

"I know there's a lot of fear out there and we've felt it too," Golden said. "I want everyone to know we have a lot of good professionals on this, this is a team effort. We are recommending masks and I know that there are some folks that wish we would require them. Our experience—based on last year, based on this summer, based on CDC guidelines, based on vaccination, based on what we know about the hospitalizations, about the number of adults versus the number of children with positive cases—that whole package that we've studied for so long leads us to conclude that the most appropriate place to start is to recommend to wear masks."

See more about WCS's illness guidelines here.