Wilson County Schools students are now required to wear face coverings during school hours after a unanimous vote by Wilson County School board members at their meeting last Wednesday.

Gov. Bill Lee’s Executive Order 84 allows for parents, adults and staff to opt-out of mask wearing.

The WCS policy will be evaluated at the board’s Oct. 4 meeting.

Student and staff attendance rose to nearly 95% after being out of school for 10 days, WCS Director Jeff Luttrell said last week. Prior to closing on Aug. 30, the attendance was close to 85%, which left 96 classrooms without teachers or substitutes and 40 buses without drivers.

As of Monday, when the district’s virus data for the previous week is released, there were 163 students who tested positive and 317 students who were contact traced. For the week ending Aug. 27, there were 369 students were positive and 2,253 were contact traced.

Since the current school year began in August, there have been 1,031 students who tested positive with COVID, and 5,525 students were contact traced.

As of Monday, there were 15 staff members out of school, and three who were contact traced. For the week ending Aug. 27, there were 37 staff members out and 16 who had contact traced. All of the staff members did not necessarily test positive for COVID. Some were out for other reasons, such as their child testing positive or being contact traced.

Since the beginning of the school year, there have been 107 staff members who tested positive.

The board discussion about the face coverings took nearly two hours at the meeting. Luttrell made two recommendations: the mask requirement and one to require asymptomatic students to also be quarantined.

“I wish I could make this go away,” Luttrell said. “The one thing that resonated with me last year, was that our community wants their kids in school. I want that. I want it as safe as possible. There have been no deaths. This Delta variant is different. I do know this. People spread it and there are some deaths.

“I can’t sit and be quiet any longer. Last week showed me something, when we shut down last week for 10 days, we were able to come back to school. I’ve not been influenced from either side. I’ve listened. You’ve got valid points on each side.”

Board member Kimberly McGee said she was concerned about the mask requirement and about possible bullying of students.

“I don’t want any student bullied on either side,” she said. “I think it’s important that parents have those conversations that it’s a choice.”

WCS Health Services Supervisor Chuck Whitlock told the board that there are nearly as many school cases which have been positive since school began as there was all of last school year.

“(Recently,) we had 19 cases at Lebanon High School from (just one person),” he said.

The board also unanimously approved expanding the WCS Virtual Learning Academy to include kindergarten through 12th grade students. It is currently for students in sixth grade through 12th grade.

On Sept. 9, the district sent a survey to parents about the expansion. The deadline to turn it in was Sept. 14. The survey likely will determine if there is enough interest to create the additional grade-levels for the school.

Larry Tomlinson and Linda Armistead were re-elected as WCS board chairman and vice chairman, respectively. Armistead, Bill Robinson and Kimberly McGee were re-elected to the Ethics Committee.

The work on portable classroom trailers at Stoner Creek Elementary School is almost complete and WCS Finance Director Michael Smith said that the students should be able to use the portables after fall break next month.

The district is expected to bid the rebuilding of West Wilson Middle School in January, Smith said.