Spectators at Jackson County Public Schools indoor athletic events are now required to wear masks.
Athletes will continue to wear masks on the sideline, but not while participating in active play. Masks are not required at outdoor athletic events.
The policy change for indoor events was termed “a proactive response to the rapidly increasing community spread of COVID-19,” according to JCPS spokesman David Proffitt.
“It is not due to any significant increase in positive cases at the nine JCPS schools,” he said.
The policy went into effect Tuesday. The first athletic event at Smoky Mountain to be impacted will be a volleyball game agaisnt Tuscola next Tuesday.
“We’ve been following our metrics, and we’re in a really good spot,” Superintendent Dana Ayers said last Thursday. “Currently, our student population positivity rate is below 2 percent for the entire district, and we want to keep it that way.”
At the July 27 meeting of the Jackson County Board of Education, Ayers was granted the authority to adjust the mask policy for athletics as needed to help prevent school closures and student quarantines.
“I had initially made the decision not to require spectators to wear a mask, but what we’re finding is a fear that those folks who are spectators will impact our students and families in the stands which will directly impact those students being in school on a daily basis,” Ayers said.
The district collects information from each school regarding positive COVID cases, and contact tracing is performed by school nurses. Policy adjustments are made after considering both school and community data.
“We made the decision by talking with our principals and our athletic directors, but also following the data,” Ayers said. “We are monitoring very closely and updating our dashboard daily, looking at the metrics and the locations of where the greater numbers are.”
While Ayers said she understands the inconvenience of the mask requirement for spectators, she is primarily focused on safety and keeping schools open.
“We want folks there to cheer on our student-athletes, but we want to be safe,” she said. “We made this decision out of extreme precautions so we can keep students in school.”