Why some North East Mississippi school districts are requiring students wear masks and others are not

COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – As the fall semester approaches, school districts across North East Mississippi are making their decisions on whether or not students will need to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. “My concern is that we have guidance from our public health department and I think it’s our responsibility to strongly consider and, in our case, follow that guidance,” says Dr. Eddie Peasant, superintendent for the Starkville-Oktibbeha School District. Tuesday, SOCSD joined Columbus, West Point and Aberdeen in requiring all students in their school districts to wear masks to class.

“It’s going to be safer and it’s going to allow our students to stay in school, which is where we would like for them to be,” Dr. Peasant says. “To go on learning as opposed to having to be sent home (to quarantine).” Dr. Peasant says the school board has been refining their health and safety policies based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Mississippi State Health Department.

“This new guidance allows us to have options,” he explained. “Including determining (if) they’re vaccinated or if they’re wearing masks in certain settings, then they won’t have to be quarantined.” SOCSD students and faculty will need to wear their masks on the bus, in class and anytime they’re in close proximity to another student or teacher. However, masks are not required when outside and there will be mask breaks throughout the day when students can be 6 feet apart or near open windows. The Nettleton School District also finalized its back-to-school plan Tuesday. It joined school districts in Tupelo, Louisville and Monroe County in making masks optional. However, school superintendent Tim Dickerson says masks are still highly recommended. “We still are putting up signs that are going to say, ‘We recommend that you wear a mask if you’re not vaccinated,’ and that’s going off the recommendations of the CDC,” Dickerson says.

Dickerson says a study from the end of May all the way through June showed that around 90 percent of the parents they surveyed supported making masks optional. “We have to take care of our folks here in this community,” Dickerson says. “For the most part, they’ve expressed an interest in us being mask-optional right now. We feel fairly confident that we can do that in a safe way.” Both superintendents say their schools will continue providing masks for students as well as closely monitor how effective each approach is at preventing the spread of COVID-19 and its Delta variant.

“When changes are made, we have to reevaluate what we’re doing and make sure that we’re doing what we can do to fit what our community wants and needs at the same time,” Dickerson says. Click here to read SOCSD’s full safety plan and click here to read the full plan for Nettleton schools. The Lowndes County School District will be discussing the mask policy for their back-to-school plan on Thursday.

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