During Friday’s called board meeting, the Scottsboro City Board of education voted 3-2 to implement a mask mandate at schools to start the school year. This ruling comes after receiving recommendation from the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) as well as seeing a spike in COVID cases. From Aug. 9 to Aug. 12, students and staff will be required to wear masks indoors.
Board President Patricia Stewart and board members Patrick Woosley and Dr. Gary Speers voted for the mandate, while board members Jason Williams and Lee Benson voted against.
In these recommendations, the ADPH recommends students wear masks and practice social distancing, with desks in classrooms being three feet apart. With these recommendations in mind, even students exposed to COVID-19 positives could stay in school and be safe assuming they follow the mask mandate and practice social distancing. Masks on buses are already a required law across the country.
“We’re instructed [by Alabama’s superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey] to try to be uniform with the [ADPH] guidance here, so you would want your language, you would want your protocols to mirror the guidance here,” Superintendent Amy Childress said.
Though the decision was made to require masks, when first brought up during Thursday’s regular board meeting, there was plenty of back and forth on whether to mandate masks or not. One of the biggest points to mandate masks were the protocols on a positive COVID test with a mask vs without a mask. Without a mask, any positive COVID case would isolate any individual who comes in contact with that person for longer than 15 minutes and within six feet. There is an exception to this rule if the individual in close contact is vaccinated however some students aren’t old enough to be vaccinated and if they are old enough, the schools cannot require students to show proof, leaving the schools to go by an “honor system,” taking the student’s word on if they’re vaccinated.
“I’m totally for masks. I think it means we can go to school. I think it means that we can have football games, we can have band play, we can have cross country,” Stewart said. “All of those things are going to come to a halt pretty quick if we’re not wearing masks because all it takes is for one coach at football, one band member. Let’s say dance line, let’s say cheer, you get one [member to] come down with COVID on dance line or cheer, you’ve wiped out everybody because they’ve had contact. There’s no way to protect them without wearing a mask.”
Part of the decision-making process came down to a survey of both staff and parents. 641 parents and 210 staff members responded to this survey. 69.2% of the parents and 68.6% of the staff said no to a mask mandate.
“In my mind, we’re prolonging the inevitable and if my neighbor is mad at me for making his kid have to wear a mask because it’s uncomfortable and they don’t like it and it makes them hot, I can take that pressure a whole lot more than my neighbor getting mad at me because his child is sick because I didn’t make them wear a mask,” Woosley said. “I’m not saying masks prevent anything but it’s kind of like an insurance policy in my mind. If they’ve got them on, hey, we’ve put forth our effort to try to keep them healthy, we’ve done everything we can, I’m sorry that he’s sick but I left no stone unturned.”
After the mandate expires Thursday, the board will meet at 5 p.m. to review numbers both across the county and within the school system to determine if the masks should remain or be relaxed to student’s and staff’s choice.
“This is not an easy decision for anyone. This comes back to personal choice. It is very difficult to say based on the information we have what is 100% safe and what is not. We do not have all of those definition,” Childress said. “As a superintendent and I’m sure as a board, we would love for that to come from someone else, to give us that directive but we are not in that position and so we’ll make recommendations and vote the way we see fit and we will do our 100% best. We all have the same mindset that safety is of the utmost importance for our students.”