School districts split on masks for returning students

Published 4:35 pm Tuesday, August 3, 2021

As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to surge statewide, local school districts are considering mask mandates for the return to classes this week.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves says he won’t require students or teachers in K-12 schools to wear masks, but many schools statewide have chosen to do so. 

Oxford School District superintendent Bradley Roberson announced in a letter sent out to families Saturday that masks will now be required in school.

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“As education leaders, we have all seen the negative impact last school year has had on student learning which is why an overwhelming majority of districts across our state have been determined to open schools with as much normal school operations as possible,” Roberson wrote in his letter.

“Unfortunately, in recent days we have learned from some of our district friends from around the state who have already started school that a normal return may not provide us with the best opportunity to keep kids in school.”

The OSD will require masks at least through Aug. 20. 

Lafayette County School District is recommending but not requiring masks, although this decision is contentious. 

On Monday, one parent at the LCSD board meeting publicly commented that the decision for students to wear masks should be up to the parents, a sentiment echoed later by Board of Trustees member Kimberly East.

“I believe it should be the parents’ choice,” East said. “Not just as a board member, but a parent of three in school.”

The board voted 3-2 during that meeting to keep the return to school plan the same, which says masks are optional.

“I think face coverings should be worn just for health reasons,” said Kathy Worley, one of two dissenters on the vote. 

Before making the motion to approve the plan, board member Jamie Anderson asked if masks would be required on school buses due to the Transportation Security Administration’s order to wear face coverings on all public transportation until Sept. 13. 

Anderson said the board will have to reckon with this order by TSA, but members decided to go forward and not amend the plan. 

The LCSD will keep observing the progression of COVID-19, CDC and state regulations, but will reserve the right to mandate masks when deemed necessary, board members said.

More than 1,000 patients were hospitalized with coronavirus in the state on Tuesday, compared with 228 on July 11. Officials reported more than 1,500 new virus cases.

On Monday, the MSDH said the state saw 4,991 new COVID-19 cases, 13 deaths, and 114 ongoing outbreaks in long-term care facilities over the weekend as the virus surges statewide. 

That’s an increase of more than six times the number of new cases — 796 — reported three weeks ago on July 12.

Lafayette County’s numbers increased to 6,604 on Monday from Friday’s 6,548 and one death occurred over the same period. As of Monday, those numbers had jumped to 6,631 cases — a 27 case increase in one day.

The state of around 3 million people has seen almost 350,000 COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. The increase in new cases is due predominantly to the highly contagious Delta variant. 

Statewide, the number of people receiving doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in Mississippi is increasing as numbers of new cases surge in the state. 

Around 53,000 people received either a first or second dose of the coronavirus vaccine the week of July 25 to 31, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health. That’s after the state reported hitting a low of around 20,000 vaccinations for the week of July 4 to July 10. 

The last time vaccination rates were so high was between April 25 and May 1, when 55,638 people were inoculated.

Mississippi is ranked among the least vaccinated states in the country against COVID-19. Around 1.2 million people in the state of around 3 million have received at least one dose of the vaccine. 

“We need (tilde)1 million more immune Mississippians to reach population immunity,” State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs tweeted Tuesday. “Delta is deadly…”