The largest school system in Alabama is ending its mask mandate. Beginning Monday, students and teachers will be free to choose whether or not to wear face coverings while on Mobile County Public School System property.
MCPSS Superintendent of Education Chresal Threadgill made the announcement last week in an October 22 newsletter.
“While masks will be optional, we will still implement safety practices such as social distancing as much as possible, the frequent cleaning of our facilities and the use of sanitizers,” he said. “Our priority will remain the health and safety of everyone. We will continue monitoring positive cases as we approach the winter months and will adjust as necessary. Note that students who wear masks are less likely to be quarantined, in accordance with the CDC and ADPH guidance we sent to all our families. Also, students and employees who are fully vaccinated won’t need to quarantine if they do not have any COVID-19 symptoms.”
Ending the mandate follows the statewide trend of school systems ditching masks as the COVID-19 Delta wave tapers off and comes despite renewed calls from the Alabama Department of Public Health to continue universal masking.
A press release on October 19 from ADPH, just days before MCPSS’ announcement, expressed concerns from pediatric officials that COVID-19 cases in children are declining at a slower rate, with school-age children representing almost 15 percent of recently reported cases. According to ADPH, 19 children were hospitalized with COVID-19, as of October 14 with three in intensive care and two on ventilators.
“We need to urge those involved in the education of children to provide a safe, healthy learning environment while we bring this virus under control,” said ADPH spokesperson Dr. Karen Landers.
Universal mask mandates in schools are still promoted nationwide in the United States. Meanwhile, other countries have taken different stands on school masking. Students at different grade levels have been exempted from masking in countries like the U.K. Ireland, all of Scandinavia, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Italy.
In August, the Mobile County Board of Education unanimously chose to require masks to begin the 2021-2022 school year. Threadgill noted that reassessing the mandate based on the COVID-19 numbers in the county was a part of this plan. The announcement comes a full month after surrounding school systems dropped mask requirements. Baldwin County Public Schools, Saraland City Schools and Gulf Shores City Schools ended their mandates October 1.
Meanwhile, some school systems statewide will continue requiring personal protective equipment. Tuscaloosa City School Board of Education recently extended its mandate through November 19, when students will be dismissed for Thanksgiving break.
Threadgill cited the Alabama Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 threat category status as the justification for ending the mandate. He noted that Mobile County has moved out of the “high risk” category to just “moderate risk.”
According to Alabama’s K-12 Dashboard tracker, Mobile and Baldwin county schools are still in the highest category for school cases. The criteria for this category is extremely broad to include school districts with case numbers from 24 to 2,000. The report indicates that as of October 21, MCPSS had 59 reported cases while Baldwin had 27. Chickasaw, Saraland and Satsuma city schools are reported to have zero to nine cases.
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