Mississippi schools opening as COVID-19 cases rapidly rising and some schools remain mask-optional

Published 3:13 pm Sunday, July 25, 2021

Even as COVID-19 cases have increased rapidly in Mississippi in recent days, some school districts are saying masks will be optional for students, teachers and staff.

Among the districts taking that approach is the state’s largest one, DeSoto County School District.

“Right now, there are no state mandates or local mandates requiring masks,” Superintendent Cory Uselton told WMC-TV. “Last year, we were under a mask mandate because of the governor’s executive order. There’s no executive order in place right now, so that will be a parental decision.”

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As part of its guidance for K-12 school settings, the Mississippi State Department of Health recommends masks for anyone not fully vaccinated. It also recommends people 12 and older get vaccinated. Instead of encouraging either of those things, the DeSoto District will give families information from the health department, the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics, Uselton said.

The Mississippi chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics published a letter Thursday saying that it recommends masks indoors for schools for any child 2 or older and for all teachers and staff.

“In the absence of schools being able to conduct monitoring of vaccination status on a daily basis, universal masking is the best and most effective strategy to create consistent messages, expectations, enforcement and compliance without the added administrative burden placed upon already stressed teachers,” said the letter signed by the chapter president, Dr. Anita Henderson of Hattiesburg.

Classes started last week in the Gulfport School District. Superintendent Glen East told WLOX-TV that masks are not required but are “strongly encouraged,” especially for those younger than 12.

Without state mandates, East said it is “up to the parents to make the good decisions.”

The Lauderdale County School District, where classes begin Aug. 5, is taking the same approach.

”We talked with medical professionals,” Deshannon Davis, the district’s director of career and technical education, told WTOK-TV. “We talked with our school nurses, our administrators, our teachers on the front lines.”

In the absence of mask mandate from Gov. Tate Reeves, the Lauderdale County schools “decided to make that a parental decision,” Davis said.