Masks required at area schools
Two protest county's decision on mandate
August 19, 2021
With the 2021-2022 school year into its second full week, students and faculty members in the Brewton City School System and the Escambia County School System have been sent home due to COVID-19 issues that involve positive tests and contact tracing.
However, superintendents for both systems say steps continue to be taken to insure safety and to keep students in the classroom.
As expected, the county school board followed the Brewton City School board, by implementing a mask order last Thursday for staff and students in grades one through 12. The mandate went into effect Friday, Aug. 13.
Escambia County School Superintendent John Knott said the system has experienced a higher number of positive COVID-19 cases than was expected saying the positive tests were spread out through the schools in the system. He noted some of the positive cases developed prior to the mask mandate.
He also said there were some problems in kindergarten with students sent home due to close contact.
"We had some cases with students and teachers," Knott said. "If we have a large number of positive cases I'm going to do what's right. We're working through it."
The mask mandate for both systems is for inside school facilities but are not mandated for activities outside.
Brewton City Schools Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Varner also said teachers and students have been sent home due to COVID issues.
Brewton's mandate is for students and staff from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Dr. Varner noted if students and faculty are wearing masks, they will not be sent home due to close contact.
"We're seeing some cases in students and faculty," he said. "It's a challenge but we're working through it."
Dr. Varner said if the cases go up among teachers the system may face a staffing issue due to a low number of substitute teachers willing to go into the schools.
Dr. Varner said he's seen no problems with mandating the masks in kindergarten saying the students like to play with them, but it's not an issue.
"Our goal is to keep students in school," Dr. Varner said. "We'll take any steps necessary to keep the schools safe for students and staff."
Both systems' mask mandate is set to expire at the end of September, but the systems will continue to gather data and make adjustments as needed.
As the county school board discussed the mask mandate last Thursday, two people held up signs against forcing children to wear masks.
The signs, held by Denise Blosser and Tracey Still read 'My child's health decisions are mine! Not yours', 'Let the children breathe', and 'Children have a 99.995 % survival rate'.
Blosser said she has a child attending W.S. Neal Elementary School and Still said she had grandchildren attending the same school.
"It's not your place to make a decision for my child," Still said. "This is America, we've got to have a choice.
Blosser said the choice should be left up to the parents, not the school board.
"My babies won't be attending," Still added. "This is a dictatorship."
The school board voted 6-1 to implement the mask mandate with Board Member Mike Edwards voting no.