KINGSPORT — Kingsport City Schools will require mask wearing in schools through the end of the 2020-21 academic year midday on May 19, the school system announced Friday afternoon.

However, the mandate through the last half-day of school will not apply at the May 21 graduation ceremonies at Dobyns-Bennett High School, scheduled for J. Fred Johnson Stadium unless weather drives the ceremony inside to the Buck Van Huss Dome.

The decision comes after Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable earlier in the week announced he would let the county’s mask mandate, the last in Northeast Tennessee, expire as of 11:59 p.m. Friday.

Gov. Bill Lee also announced earlier that he was withdrawing authority for 89 counties in the state to have local mask mandates and urging the other six counties with independent authority, including Sullivan, to end them.

The city school system posted the news Friday afternoon on social media and sent it via email.

“Please be aware that at this time, after ongoing consultation with the Tennessee Department of Health and the Sullivan County Regional Health Department, Kingsport City Schools will continue to operate utilizing all current operational procedures (such as enhanced disinfecting protocols, mask wearing and social distancing whenever possible) through the last day of school (5/19/21) as outlined in the Framework for Opening the 2020-21 School Year: Operations Manual,” the emailed statement read.

The manual identifies detailed operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, the update says that all face-to-face students will continue to have in-person learning at school, and all Remote Choice Learning students will continue with virtual instruction.

The continued mandate applies “just until the 19th,” Assistant Superintendent of Schools Andy True said in a phone interview after the written statement was released. “It just deals with it through the last day of school.”

The Sullivan County Regional Health Department is recommending schools continue with masks, citing an increase in COVID-19 cases among younger residents and the lack of a vaccine approved for those younger than 16. Sullivan County also has had spikes in cases in younger people.

The five-member Kings- port Board of Education gave Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse the authority to make such decisions about responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Sullivan County Schools, the seven-member Board of Education is to consider at its Tuesday meeting whether to follow the recommendation of Director of Schools David Cox to keep the mask mandate through the end of the school year.

Cox’s recommendation, made at a Thursday school board work session, drew support from one board member and opposition from three others. Changing the mask mandate would require at least four votes.

Also Friday, the Transportation Security Administration announced an extension of the mask requirement for travel on airplanes, in airports, on buses and on rail systems. The expiration date was moved to Sept. 13.

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