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Mask mandate in place for county schools

The Escambia County School Board met in special session Thursday afternoon to discuss the plans implementing a mask mandate for all Escambia County Schools.

Superintendent John Knott informed members of the board concerning recent increases in COVID cases around the county.

“This week, we have received additional information on the number of COVID cases in the area,” Knott said. “It is my recommendation that we consider a temporary face mask requirement to add to the safety protocols already in place for our students.”

Knott said some changes in the mandates put into place during the previous school year are notable.

“Last year we had a mask mandate in place,” Knott said. “We sent about 1,750 students and staff home last year because of close contact. We are asking that this year we not require those close contacts who wear masks to not be sent home. Teachers can’t teach and kids can’t learn when they are not at school.”

Two people in the audience expressed their concerns with a mandate requiring students to wear masks.

“Can’t it be the parents’ choice,” asked Tracy Still, who has grandchildren attending W.S. Neal Elementary School. “If it’s a parent choice, let them choose to wear masks. My babies won’t be attending. I’ll home school.”

Denise Blosser, who has a child at W.S. Neal Elementary, voiced her concern on the mask mandate as well.

“You’re dictating that my child wear a mask,” Blosser said. “That should be my choice. My name is on that birth certificate, not yours.”

Board President Cindy Jackson acknowledged the concerns of the pair and thanked them for their input on the topic.

After a brief discussion by board members, all members voted in favor of the mandate with the exception of board member Mike Edwards. Board member David Nolin was not present for the meeting.

The mask mandate will be effective as of Friday, Aug. 13 and will remain in place through Sept. 24. The board agreed to review data on COVID cases as it is available and amend or extend the mandate as supported by the data.

In the mandate, the board agreed “that face masks/coverings will be worn while inside school facilities during the school day. Masks will not be required for outside activities such as PE and athletics. All students, regardless of age or vaccination status, who utilize Escambia County School buses for transportation, are required to wear masks. This is a mandate issued by the Federal Department of Transportation. The mask requirements will remain in effect through September 24, 2021. District leaders will then reassess the current health trend as it relates to COVID-19 and the Delta Variant.”

The mandate is in place for students, staff and visitors to any Escambia County School campus.

Knott also noted there have been 21 positive students cases and nine positive staff cases of COVID-19, however, none of those cases involved any interaction with other school students or staff while at school. Additionally, on the third day of school, four cases have been reported with additional reporting expected on Friday.