Backlash at school board meeting over Baldwin County mask mandate

Baldwin County

BALDWIN COUNTY, Ala. (WKRG) — Baldwin County Public Schools announced Thursday they will be requiring masks for all students second grade and up, as well as staff members and visitors through Sept. 10.  

Superintendent Eddie Tyler, in an email sent to parents, said masks will be required both on school property and on buses. This decision has come with some backlash, with parents protesting the mandate at a Baldwin County School Board meeting, just about four hours after the announcement.  

Though one parent, Lori Ayler, whose son attends a Baldwin County School, says masking up won’t be an issue for her son.  

“I don’t think it’s a huge issue for him as much as a teenager or something like that,” Ayler said. “I think it’s fine. I mean, he did it last year because he went to school.” 

Superintendent Tyler stated in his letter that the rise of the delta variant and its impact on children, as well as firsthand experience with staff members diagnosed with COVID-19, concerned him – ultimately leading him to this decision.   

The mandate will be revisited over the Labor Day holiday break, and it is then they will decide whether it should be extended.  

On the other side of Mobile Bay, the Mobile County Public School System says they will not be mandating masks in schools but they are “strongly recommending” them.

Read Superintendent Tyler’s full letter below:

Parents,

I hope you are enjoying this last week of July!

In my email last week, I told you I would be prepared to make adjustments and implement changes if we see the need. While I have many responsibilities, I have none greater than ensuring the health and safety of our children and our employees. Therefore, it’s time to pull your masks out. 

I have made the decision we are going to start back to school with masks being mandatory for all employees, visitors and students, 2nd grade and higher, while in our buildings or on our buses through September 10th. I don’t think I need to go back through the details of how this will work. I believe everyone remembers well from last year. Your principals will have more to say in the coming week as they welcome you back to school.

We will keep this simple by saying, “Anyone traveling on our buses or in our buildings during the instructional day will be required to wear a mask.” Pre-K, kindergarten, 1st grade and those students with an appropriately documented medical reason, are exempt from the mandatory requirement but are encouraged to wear masks or other suitable face coverings.

Initially, we will leave this policy in place through September 10th. We will review this policy over Labor Day break and decide if it needs to be extended. It is my hope with the supportive efforts of you and your children, we will end this policy, as expected.

We will continue our sanitization protocols in our buildings and our buses as we have done before. This is our new standard. We will encourage social distancing where possible and we will monitor everyone for leading COVID symptoms like loss of taste and smell.

That’s all I have to announce in this email but if you want to know the “why”, you are welcome to keep reading.

Part of being a good leader is listening to others. I am not a medical expert but we have a team of medical, legal and crisis experts who work with our senior staff to keep us focused and help me make the right decisions. I think you will agree we have done a great job over the last 18 months and I hope you will continue to trust us.

I am a big proponent of personal responsibility. Each of us has to be responsible for ourselves and part of that is the ability to get the vaccine, should you choose. I am vaccinated, as are the majority of our teachers. Children over the age of 12 may also get the vaccine. I understand the older population, which was once vulnerable, is safer today with so many having taken the vaccine. While that is good news, there have been some changes worth noting. Changes that seem to be impacting those who are vaccinated and also those under 18, who were once asymptomatic, which has shifted my ‘personal responsibility’ mindset.

While the vaccine can be helpful and keep you out of the hospital, the CDC recently pushed out an update advising vaccinated persons to wear masks. There is evidence that those who are vaccinated can get this new Delta variant. We have seen this firsthand within our system where vaccinated staff members came down with COVID in just the last week. This is troubling from a staffing perspective as we fight to keep our schools open.

What is truly concerning is the impact this Delta variant is having on children. The most important information has come from our friends at Children’s and Women’s Hospital and USA Health. This is the leading academic medical group along the Gulf Coast. When it comes to children’s healthcare, they are THE experts.

The chief medical officer, Dr. Michael Chang, has advised us that this Delta variant seems to be more impactful on children as compared to the previous versions of COVID. Earlier this month, it was reported that 10 children were admitted to ICU in Mississippi while fighting this new strain of COVID. Dr. Chang informed me this week that the ICU at Children’s and Women’s Hospital has been at or near capacity. Other administrators have advised us of the same information on ICU units across South Alabama’s hospitals and these experts believe this will continue.

While the death rate IS low, it seems ridiculous to me we would make our decisions simply based on whether or not people are dying. I am very grateful we have a low death rate but I don’t want our actions, or lack of actions, to impact that. Reducing the spread is critical to keeping hospitalizations low, which will allow medical professionals to be successful in that fight.

I have also been advised that among children, death is not the only concern. Children are suffering from blood clots and inflammation, known as myocarditis, from the COVID infection. Both of these can be very dangerous and lethal for otherwise healthy children, even after fully recovering from COVID. This is not just speculation. This has been evidenced in recent deaths of children from our area and this is why we want to keep our children from getting it. This is also why so many medical experts will correct us when we say COVID is just like the flu.

This change from the COVID variant where children were virtually asymptomatic to this new Delta variant, where children are not only sick but being admitted to ICU, is concerning. It is simply not worth the risk to not wear a mask. I understand all the reasons not to and two weeks ago, things were different but that’s just the reality of how fast things can change and how honest leaders should respond.

Now, there is a strong belief among medical experts this trend in growth could dissipate in another month. Medical experts say the outbreak from the UK appears to have peaked and as I mentioned in my email last week, we saw a similar situation with COVID growth last year as we started school, continuing until just after Labor Day. I have been led to believe we can keep this phase short and fight back the spread, keeping our children safe and our schools open by taking some obvious and easy steps. That is what we are going to do.

Parents, my ultimate goal is and has been to keep our kids and employees safe, keep school open and to support our community and our economy. I understand masks are an inconvenience. They are uncomfortable and many argue a distraction or even mildly unhealthy but folks, let’s not be shortsighted about this. Children UNDER 12 cannot get a vaccine and Alabama has among the lowest vaccination rates in the nation so our students OVER 12 aren’t breaking any records to get the vaccine either. Many parents have serious concerns about vaccinating their children and I would not second guess their concerns but as a result, we have a new strain of this virus, which is many times more infectious and contagious. More importantly, it is impacting children like we haven’t seen before.

If you have read this far, then I should give you a science credit or a reading award! 

Having gotten this far though, you know where my heart is and as importantly, you know I am making this decision based on a massive amount of information being shared by unbiased medical experts located right here in our community. 

Yes, I believe we can overreact. I do believe some of what we hear about this virus can be said for manipulative reasons. That is not where I am and that is not where these people are either. We are seeking to take the necessary steps, and none greater.

I know I’m going to hear from parents about how awful this is and how I’ve bought into the manipulation. I’m a big boy and I’ll take it, but rest assured, I understand where they are coming from. Not only do I have my own personal opinions but I read all of the hundreds of emails I get from parents. I understand all sides of the argument but I’m not going to whistle past the graveyard over something as simple as wearing a mask when it will help keep our schools open.

I have a favor to ask. I know you don’t have a choice but I’m asking you and your children to do this with a positive attitude. We gave so much over the last year to bring home a win for our kids and our community. Stand with me on this decision and let us take the high road together with an ounce of prevention. With your support and the efforts of your children and our employees, I hope we will be mask free again in September.

As always, thank you for trusting us with your children and please continue to pray for a safe and successful 2021-22 school year!

Eddie Tyler,
Superintendent
#BaldwinProud #CommunityStrong

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