As it stands, face masks will not be required in city or county schools during the next school year, but that could change in a school system.
Walker County Schools Superintendent Dr Dennis Willingham has insisted face masks will not be required when students return to school next month.
“We are following state and CDC guidelines,” Willingham said of COVID-19 protocols. “There won’t be a mask warrant for Walker County schools, but they are certainly encouraged.”
Dr Ann Jackson, superintendent of schools for the town of Jasper, said the school system’s plan was that no masks be required in schools. However, with COVID cases on the rise again, the plan may need to be changed.
“I am speaking with our local administrators, teachers, nurses and doctors to determine our course of action,” she said. “With the increase in positive cases, we will have to re-evaluate our decision. We know this has certainly helped keep the COVID transmission rate low in our schools. We will do our best to make the best decisions for our children and our employees. based on what the medical community recommends. At present, we continue to gather information on the direction we will take. “
Gov. Kay Ivey has expressed his belief that masks should not be mandatory in Alabama schools during the 2021-22 school year. Instead, she’s encouraging more Alabamians to get vaccinated and leaves it up to each school system to decide whether a mask warrant is needed.
Just over 35% of Walker County residents have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Alabama remains the least vaccinated state with just 33.91% of people fully vaccinated, according to multiple COVID-19 data tracking sources.
Ivey expressed his disappointment in a recent interview with reporters.
“It’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated people, not the ordinary people. It’s the unvaccinated people who let us down,” she said. “I have done everything I can do. I can encourage you to do something, but I cannot make you take care of yourself.
She added: “These [unvaccinated] people choose a horrible lifestyle of self-inflicted pain. “
According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, the majority of counties in Alabama, including Walker, are labeled “at very high risk” for contracting COVID-19.
Nearly 130 cases of COVID have been reported in Walker County over the past two weeks.
Although masks are not mandatory in schools, they will need to be worn by students on school buses. Bus drivers will also have to dress up.
The requirement is not a decision of the school system, but rather a mandate from the US Department of Transportation.
The Department of Transportation website states that “school bus operators, including the operations of public school districts, and their passengers are required to wear masks as defined by the order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“The CDC order provides limited exemptions from the mask requirement for certain small categories of people, including: children under 2 years of age; people with disabilities who cannot wear a mask, or cannot safely wear a mask due to a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act; and people for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to health, safety or work at work. “
The city’s school system mentions the mask requirement on school buses in its plan to reopen, but the mask requirement for school buses is not stated in the plan for Walker County schools. Willingham said the county school system was revising its plan.
Plans for reopening are subject to change and the most up-to-date plans are available on each school system’s website.
Both school systems have similar plans that include all students (except in special circumstances) attending school in the traditional way. Blended learning will be offered temporarily if a student misses school due to exposure or infection to COVID-19.
Schools in Walker County and Jasper City will also send a student home if their temperature is 100.4 degrees or higher. School system leaders are encouraging parents to screen their children for symptoms of COVID-19 before sending them to school.
Schools in the town of Jasper will be hosting online learning days for students on the first Wednesday of each month, except during the months of November, December and January. The days are designed for the development of teaching.
Students and school employees will not have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to be on school campuses.
Alabama Senate Bill 267, passed May 17, 2021, prohibits entities from requiring a person to be vaccinated to receive government benefits or services. Regarding education, the bill provides “to prohibit educational institutions from requiring additional vaccines as a condition of attendance.”
The bill further reads: “Educational institutions may continue to require a student to prove their vaccination status as a condition of attendance only for specific vaccines that were already required by the institution on the 1st. January 2021, provided that institutions grant an exemption for students with a health problem or religious beliefs contrary to vaccination. “
Governor Ivey enacted the bill on May 24, saying, “Since the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. [Scott] Harris and I said we would not impose vaccines in the state of Alabama. I am in favor of a voluntary vaccine and by signing this bill I only further strengthen that belief. ”
As of Thursday, only 5.3% of children aged 0 to 17 had been vaccinated against COVID-19 in the state of Alabama, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. Children 12 years of age and older can receive the Pfizer vaccine, while the Moderna vaccine is only given to 18 years and older.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that all children 12 and older be vaccinated against COVID-19 and wear masks in schools.
“Using science and data to inform decisions about the COVID-19 pandemic and school plans is essential,” the AAP says on its website. “COVID-19 policies aim to mitigate, not eliminate, the risk. Since school transmission reflects (but does not stimulate) community transmission, it is vitally important that communities take all necessary measures to limit the community spread of SARS-CoV-2 to ensure that schools can remain open and safe for all students. “
Students will return to schools in the town of Jasper on Wednesday, August 11, while students from schools in Walker County will return on Thursday, August 12.