Students across Baldwin County returned to school Aug. 11 with a mask mandate as COVID-19 cases surge in Baldwin County and area hospitals fill. Some parents in Gulf Shores showed up to the Gulf …
Students across Baldwin County returned to school Aug. 11 with a mask mandate as COVID-19 cases surge in Baldwin County and area hospitals fill. Some parents in Gulf Shores showed up to the Gulf Shores School Board meeting Aug. 12 to express their feelings regarding the mask mandate.
Parents were invited to express their concerns over the mask mandate during the public comment period at the Aug. 12 school board meeting. Before opening the floor to public comment, Board President Kevin Corcoran showed a slide show presentation to inform parents on how the decision was made and the sources referenced. The three sources they referred to are the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Superintendent Matt Akin also addressed how this year’s mask mandate differs from the previous school year.
“I would like to add a few things that are different from last year’s mask mandate. One is last year we were required by the Alabama Department of Public Health and the state department to determine close contacts and send students and faculty home who had been in close contact. We were required to tell them they had to quarantine. This year that requirement has been removed and we have actually been told not to do that. I don’t have the number of students or employees who were close contacts but I would guess it was close to 1,000. We sent a lot of people home last year. Some may say it was effective and some may not but I do think we will see less people go home,” said Akin.
According to Akin, many have asked how long the mask mandate will last. He said they are monitoring local data from Baldwin County but specifically Gulf Shores City School. If the administration sees the numbers are staying low and feel like the spread of COVID in the community is not a high rate, Akin said the mask mandate will end.
In total six parents and one student addressed the board voicing their opposition to the mask mandate and one in favor.
Chris Graham, a Gulf Shores residents with two children in the school system, spoke briefly during the work session to express his displeasure in how the meeting agenda did not detail what was being discussed in the meeting. He spoke again to the board Aug. 12.
“As someone that seeks to be an informed citizen there was really no way to tell from that agenda what was going on as well as your trip into executive session to discuss safety which I must assume was just a way to keep information away from those of us that wanted to know what is going on,” he said.
“I don’t understand whether you were putting my kids at risk last April and May or you are putting them at risk now or what the difference between last week and this week. Last week, Dale was the only one up there covering her face and last week we could see all your smiles. This week no. Last week there weren’t any armed guards and this week there are so clearly you understand the level of upset amongst the people. All I can do is stand here and tell you I am not happy. I’d like to know more. Can’t vote you out, can’t do anything. Please let us know what is going on with our kids.”
Cooper Porter, a Gulf Shores student was the only youth to address the board.
“I wear glasses sometimes and I keep my mask under my nose so they don’t fog up and I feel like it’s annoying. It’s not good to breathe in your own air all day. I feel like COVID-19 is pretty much just the same thing as the flu but we didn’t have to shut everything down for the flu, but we had to do it for COVID,” Porter said.
Each of the parents that spoke in opposition of the mask mandate had a common plea to the board, let students and parents make the choice to mask or not mask. The reasons given varied from not believing that masks work, the mental health of students and the inability to read facial expressions.
Kristin Pierre moved her three children to Gulf Shores from Ohio seeking freedom for her family. She told the board how her children were masked, isolated and quarantined for months up north.
“We saw depression in our family, and it was very real and very scary. My husband and I knew we had to change that so we thought moving here this past year would help free that. Our kids would be able to live,” Pierre said.
Once they arrived, the children were required to wear masks. She said her son fought with his teacher half the day over the mask landing him in silent lunch and without recess. Once the mask mandate was dropped last school year, she saw a change in her children. They were happy and playing sports again. Now her son is back to battling his sixth grade teacher over the mask he is required to wear.
“I think we are left with this battle over a mask that should really be our choice as parents. We don’t believe they are necessary. Other people might think that but to force them on our children when our town is at 100% capacity with tourism and our kids are being punished,” Pierre continued. “I really hope and pray you all can see this should be a choice versus mandating it because that is just what our country is founded on. I came here trying to fight for my kids because I don’t really want to move another thousand miles. I’d really like to be here for a while.”
There was only one parent that stood to speak in support of the board’s decision. Doug Sizemore has a child that just started pre-K at Gulf Shores Elementary.
“I appreciate the impossible decision you all have had to make. I don’t see where you had any other decision based on the CDC guidelines. I just hope, when the time comes, you all will remove the masks as soon as you can just like you did last year. I appreciate the impossible decision you all had to make and thank you for all you do.”
At the close of the board meeting, Corcoran thanked those who in for sharing their views with the board.
“It is so refreshing to be able to share differing opinions but in a civil manner. We are very grateful. It makes you want to continue to learn about alternative views and I just appreciate everybody for their courtesy, and it doesn’t surprise me at all. We are grateful for the attitude everybody possessed. We are not health experts, but we are doing the very best we can. We dedicate tens of hours every week to do the best for your children and we will continue to do that. We love Gulf Shore, and we love our kids.”