BALDWIN COUNTY, Ala. (WKRG) — Baldwin County School students and staff will not be required to wear masks when they return to school Jan. 18.
Baldwin County School Superintendent Eddie Tyler announced that schools will not reinstate the mask mandate in a letter parents:
“As a result of the vaccines being widely available, and this particular strain of the virus being much less impactful, I believe we are not facing the dire threats we were before and therefore our response should be measured similarly,” Tyler wrote.
Tyler cites his reasoning for not mandating masks:
Currently, hospitalizations for children are the highest they’ve ever been since the pandemic started, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Alabama has the second lowest vaccination rate of states in the US. Only 48% of Alabamians are vaccinated. Even fewer children are vaccinated.
ADPH District Medical Officer Dr. Wes Stubblefield reports that the Omicron variant is a serious situation that could cause further hospitalizations among children.
“In the crisis of higher virus transmission with the Omicron variant, immediate measures are critical,” said Stubblefield. “School-wide masking is at the top of the list of preventive steps that need to be implemented. Masks can still make a difference in school settings and allow students to remain in class, if properly used.”
In the letter, Tyler said the employees he spoke with support returning to classes. Tyler said he encouraged students and staff to wear masks, but stopped short of a mandate. Tyler said it was important for students to learn to make decisions on their own.
Here is the full text of the letter:
I hope you have enjoyed the beautiful day today. I am following up with you from our communication last week.
After consideration and review, I’m going to keep masking in our schools a personal choice amongst families. There will be no mask mandate from me for now. We will resume school Wednesday on our regular bell schedule.
Previously, when we closed schools and implemented mandatory masking, we were looking to prevent significant, detrimental impacts to our communities, hospitals and our elderly population. As a result of the vaccines being widely available, and this particular strain of the virus being much less impactful, I believe we are not facing the dire threats we were before and therefore our response should be measured similarly.
I am and have been concerned about staffing within our schools. Our Human Resources office reports those who are going out sick are returning quicker. The symptoms do not seem to be as strong. Those who were out two weeks ago have returned to work. Those who went out last week will be back this week and so on. We are following the new CDC protocols by implementing a 5-day quarantine and then returning to work after that quarantine and wearing a mask for five calendar days. We expect this will help us keep pace in schools through this new season.
The communications I have received from our employees who are on the front lines of this matter have been nothing short of supportive. They want to see our schools open. They feel it is important to keep our kids in classrooms and learning. Having seen what happens in the alternative, they want to keep in-person instruction going in Baldwin County. I could not be prouder of the thousands of teachers and support teams I work with here in Baldwin County Public Schools.
As to masking, every day we have hundreds of employees, as well as thousands of students, who wear a mask on our campuses. I strongly encourage mask-wearing to those families who have students with pre-existing conditions, to those who have parents or family members at home who are high-risk, as well as those students who may be concerned about needing a negative COVID test prior to participating in some activity.
Some parents say their children don’t want to wear masks because of peer pressure. I understand peer pressure and bullying. I can assure you it exists beyond the walls of our schools. As an adult, I sometimes choose to wear a mask and people look at me questioningly. Some of them even approach me to tell me how useless my mask is. I think it is important for our children to learn they need to make their choices on their own merits, just as we do as adults. If your child wants to wear a mask, I promise you, there’s a teacher or an administrator in our schools who will wear that mask right alongside them if they feel uncomfortable.
Having thought over this a lot, I believe the bottom line for closing schools and mandating masks comes down to our role in supporting the greater community. I believe we MUST take steps to help avoid disaster and catastrophe within our hospitals and protect our greater community from death but that is not what we are facing today. At this time, occupancy in our hospitals is about 50% of what it was in the summer during the Delta variant. Also, we have come a long way in immunization, supplies, education and preparation.
That is not to say there are not risks with COVID, but there is also a great risk in closing schools where parents cannot work and businesses have to close. Closing schools would have a dramatic impact on the staffing of our hospitals which I am told is already under great strain.
We will keep our current course and reopen schools on Wednesday. We will get another break over the weekend and we will continue the cycle of returning our employees back to our classrooms in hopes that we can keep our system operating for the families of Baldwin County.
Our primary responsibility is to open and operate our schools for so long as we have the staffing and availability to do so. At this time, the only reason I intend to close a school is if I do not have the staff available to operate the school, the transportation system or our food service operations.
This has weighed on me heavily, but I genuinely believe every decision needs to be looked at for its own merits in its own time and place. I am very confident this is the right decision for today.
Thank you so very much for trusting us with your children. We look forward to seeing everyone back at school on Wednesday.