FAIRHOPE – While COVID-19 cases are increasing and Baldwin County’s vaccination rate is less than the state average, public school officials will not require masks or vaccines for students and employees when classes resume Aug. 11, Eddie Tyler, superintendent of education, said.
Tyler said employees will continue increased cleaning efforts and other precautions and the use of masks will be recommended, but face coverings will not be mandatory.
“Right now, we’re going to open up our doors,” Tyler said. “Masks will not be required, but I will encourage students and employees to wear masks, but it’s not right for everybody. Where some parents are adamant that masks should be required, there’s other parents that are adamant that masks don’t need to be worn. It should be a choice. So, it will be a choice.”
At the Baldwin County School System administrators’ meeting July 22, Tyler said he is also recommending that parents of students 12 and older have their children vaccinated, but the immunizations are also a choice.
“What I’m going to continue to do is encourage our parent of children over 12 years old to get a vaccination,” Tyler said. “But some of our parents are very adamant. They’re not going to do it. Well, I can’t make them go get a vaccination. But at the same time, if they’re not going to do that, others that are getting vaccinated need to have the freedom to come to school unrestricted. You can’t have it both ways. So, we’re going to continue to encourage faculty and students over 12 years old with their parents blessing to seek a vaccination.”
He said most school system employees are vaccinated. Many received their shots during a school system vaccination program conducted last spring.
Tyler said that while classes have been out since May, young people have been gathering, often without masks or social distancing, throughout the summer.
“They’ve been going to the beach. They’ve been going to summer camps. They’ve been taking vacations. There’s band camps and athletic camps all during the summer,” Tyler said. “So, we’re getting ready to open up school and children will be together just like they were all summer and I can’t see putting things in place that would be of a restrictive nature that they haven’t been dealing with all summer. So, we’re going to keep our children safe.”
Tyler said educators will monitor the spread of COVID-19. They will be ready to go back to mask requirements, closed campuses and distance learning if necessary.
“We’re prepared, if something happens to backtrack, if need be, through our processes that we did last year,” Tyler said.
Students took part in distance learning when school buildings closed in the spring of 2020. During the 2020-21 school year, when buildings reopened, as many as 7,000 students continued to take part in distance learning through the Baldwin County Virtual School.
Tyler said that this year, enrollment at the virtual school is closer to the level it was before the pandemic with about 300 students enrolled in high school and about 300 in first through eighth grade.
While the system will not return to mask requirements in August, the increased cleaning efforts imposed during the pandemic will continue. Tyler said cleaning school rooms and buses helped control the spread of the virus.
Tyler said that when classes resume in August, the school system will ensure that students and employees will be safe.
“Our message is we’re coming back together,” he said. “We’re going to keep your children safe. We’re aware of everything going on around us. We’ve weathered 18 months if you go back to that spring of COVID and we did it quite well. So, I don’t see anything changing. I’m not going to put more restrictions on us entering this fall than we did last year.”