Oxford School District to not require masks starting next week

Published 12:18 pm Friday, October 15, 2021

The Oxford School District is pulling back some of their COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions next week, including its mask mandate.

During a special meeting called on Friday, OSD school superintendent Bradley Roberson rescinded the district-wide mask mandate, effecting on Monday. The mandate, which was in effect through Friday, had been in place since July 30 when Roberson implemented it with is power as superintended without a vote by the OSD Board of Trustees.

“Thankfully we’re in a much, much better situation today than we were just a few weeks ago,” Roberson said during the meeting.

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With COVID-19 cases number dropping in Lafayette County and patient numbers stabilizing, or dropping, at Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi, Roberson made the decision to remove the mask mandate.

The number of positive cases have decreased at all OSD campuses as well. Over the last four weeks the district has averaged aroun 12 cases per week. As of Friday morning, there five new cases across the district this week.

Lafayette County reported four new cases as of Thursday and the latest hospital numbers showed there were 12 COVID-19 patients at BMHNM and two were in the Intensive Care Unit. On Sept. 28, Oxford’s Board of Aldermen voted to rescind the city-wide mandate that was re-implemented in August.

“At this point I believe we have to consider the low risk of transmission versus the high risk of learning loss,” Roberson said. “Declining efficiency as well as students not reading on grade, as indicated by multiple student achievement data metrics that we’ve reviewed over the last few weeks. While our focus shifts towards the direction of student learning, that doesn’t mean we can’t ignore the effects of COVID has on our students. We must remain cautious and continue to monitor cases in the weeks ahead and adjust as needed.”

While the Board voted to amend the district’s Return to Learn plan, which changed the quarantine procedures. Students who are identified as close contact to a positive case but are asymptomatic are able to return to campus with proof of a negative test. The rest of the district’s COVID-19 precautions remain in the plan unchanged.

Board member Ray Hill disagreed with Roberson’s decision to remove the mask mandate, citing the Mississippi State Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics all still recommend schools require masks.

“I, like Mr. Roberson and all my Board members and everybody else for that matter, am very encouraged by the decrease in numbers of cases and the relatively low rate of quarantines in the district,” Hill said. “Hopefully, removing the mask mandate won’t lead to an increase of positive cases and result in an increase in quarantines. But that is just a hope I have. It’s not based on anything. Conversely, we know for a fact, because we’ve done this for quite a while, that masks work and they slow the spread of the virus and they keep kids in school. Just because things are going better, I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet.”

Over the past couple weeks members of the OSD Board sat in on classes at the district’s elementary schools and noticed the difficulty teachers were having in trying to teach their students to read while they wore masks.

Board member Betsy Smith expressed gratitude for the district’s teachers and administrators.

“This has not been fun or easy. There’s really no winning decisions that are made,” Smith said. “I think after we have had the opportunity to visit two classrooms (at Bramlett and Central Elementary Schools) the last couple months, just seeing those teachers trying to teach children actually learn to read with masks on it’s hard to watch. With our learning deficit that we’ve already seen I completely back (rescinding the mandate).”