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Some area schools relax mask policy

The Troup County School System announced Monday that it is relaxing its mask policy, but many other nearby school systems have not yet made that same call.

TCSS Superintendent Brian Shumate announced starting Oct. 18, masks would be optional but “highly recommended” in Troup County schools. He said that masks are still required on school buses, as per recommendations from the CDC.

“As we move forward, we will monitor each school’s positivity rate,” Shumate said. “The “Highly Recommended” status will remain in place unless a school’s positive COVID numbers become greater than 1% of their total student enrollment.”

He explained that if a school has 500 students, masks will remain optional there until the school has five or more positive cases of COVID-19.

Some nearby school districts aren’t ready to have similarly relaxed mask policies.

CCSD Assistant Superintendent David Owen said that Chambers County schools have required students, faculty, and staff to wear masks since the beginning of the school year, as the board voted in favor of it. He said the board reviews the policy every month with input from health officials and Superintendent Casey Chambley.

“Mr. Chambley works in conjunction with East Alabama Lanier Hospital and the health officials there and the feedback that they get, what the recommendations are,” Owen said.

He said that COVID-19 numbers in Chambers County schools have been dropping.

Owen said the policy will be reviewed again at the school board meeting on Oct. 27.

CCSD Lead Nurse Loretta Cofield’s COVID-19 day-specific report for Monday said there was one positive case of a student having COVID-19 and that three students were being quarantined. The Alabama Department of Public Health said that as of Thursday, Oct. 7, CCSD had 17 total cases for the week. The ADPH updates school COVID-19 numbers on Thursdays.

Lanett City Schools Superintendent Jennifer Boyd said students and staff in LCS have to wear masks or face coverings. This decision was approved by the school board prior to the start of the 2021-2022 school year.

“LCS has continued to consult with local healthcare professionals and has continually monitored state, and local data to guide us in the decision-making process as it relates to our local COVID-19 safety protocol since the onset of the pandemic in 2020,” Boyd said.

She said that this past summer, there was a large uptick in COVID-19 transmission and positivity rates for Chambers and surrounding counties, as well as across the state of Alabama, which led her to recommend requiring masks to the school board.

Boyd said there’s no planned end date for the policy.

“We will continue to consult with local healthcare professionals and monitor state and local data during the decision-making process,” she said. “Adjustments will be made with safety in mind.”

Fortunately for LCS, Boyd said the overall district positivity rate has remained at a level that allowed the schools to keep teaching face-to-face. According to the ADPH, LCS had less than five cases of COVID-19 for the week as of Thursday, Oct. 7.

On its website, the Harris County School District says masks became required for all students on Aug. 16. This decision was made due to there being increasing cases of COVID-19 and 389 quarantined students at the time.

“While there are lots of opinions on this matter, this step is a necessary precaution to keep students safe and in school,” said HCSD Superintendent Roger Couch. “This protocol will greatly reduce the number of quarantined students and help keep our schools open. The district governance team will continue to monitor community spread and make changes as the number of cases improve. When the quarantine numbers decrease, lessening the mitigation will be considered.”

HCSD spokesperson Rachel Crumbley said the policy will remain in place “until the numbers drop below one-half of one percent of the combined student and staff population” and remain steady for some time..

On Tuesday, the Harris County School District released its most recent weekly COVID-19 report. The data is from Tuesday, Oct. 5, through Monday, Oct.11. Out of 5506 students, there were 39 active COVID-19 cases and 213 close contact cases. Out of 787 employees, there were six active COVID-19 cases and two close contact cases.

Unlike the previous three school systems, the Heard County School System has a relaxed mask policy.

Superintendent Rodney Kay said that masks are encouraged in Heard County schools but not mandated for anyone. 

“The plan was made by district leadership, and the plan was approved by the board of education back in July,” he said. “It has been recently revisited, and no changes were made to the mask policy.”

Kay said Heard County leadership had conducted surveys of staff and the surrounding community to see what they thought about requiring masks in schools. Nearly 86% of respondents said they wanted the decision to be left up to individuals.   

The Heard County School System’s weekly COVID-19 report from Friday said that out of its total 2,201 students, none would begin the next school week with a positive COVID-19 status, and seven would begin the next week quarantined for possible exposure. Out of 283 employees, the report said that one would begin the next week with a positive COVID-19 status and none would be quarantined.