A teachers’ union has penned a letter for Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves that asked him to reconsider his opposition to a mask mandate in the state’s public schools. The letter comes from the president of the Mississippi Association of Educators (MAE), Erica Jones.
Reeves has gone on record saying he would not require students and staff to be wearing face coverings while in the classroom, when classes start in August for most public school students.
DeSoto County Schools (DCS) will begin the school year on Aug. 5 and DCS Supt. Cory Useton sides with Reeves’ current position that masks need not be required in the classroom.
In the district’s guidelines for operations this fall, Uselton made available the Mississippi State Department of Health’s (MSDH) recommendations that students and staff members should wear face coverings in the classroom. However, such wearing is at the discretion of the student or teacher/staff member and not a mandate.
The concerns come as case numbers for coronavirus, especially the Delta variant, have increased in recent weeks. On Monday, July 26, MSDH reported an additional 3,608 cases of the virus, and six additional deaths related to COVID-19. Among the six related deaths is one from DeSoto County, which occurred in the July 21-22 time period.
DeSoto County has recorded 23,026 cases since the pandemic was declared in March 2020.
MAE publicly released the letter sent to Reeves, and posted on the association’s website.
The text of the letter is also found below:
Dear Governor Reeves:
With the Delta variant taking hold in communities across Mississippi, the concerning trajectory of new COVID-19 cases, and our state’s low vaccination rate, it is our hope that you will reconsider your position and mandate the use of masks for all individuals inside Mississippi schools.
While we hoped the 2021-2022 school year would look a lot more like what we’re used to than what we’ve been forced to become accustomed to, we believe it is in the best interest of public school students, educators, and their families that a statewide K-12 mask mandate be implemented as soon as possible.
Educators are thrilled to be heading back into school buildings after an incredibly challenging year — any educator will tell you there is no place we’d rather be. But educators and students deserve to teach and learn in a safe setting without fearing for their health or the health of their families.
Though we have learned more about the spread of COVID and adapted our behaviors accordingly – both inside and outside the classroom – one thing has never changed: Masks work, and they are a simple and effective way to help prevent the spread of this disease.
This time last year, state leaders, medical experts, and public education advocates were all acting with similar urgency in ensuring the health and safety of students and educators by supporting a mask mandate. Now, a year later, we find ourselves facing nearly identical new daily infection rates. The American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending masking for all students, regardless of vaccination status. And yet we now find ourselves barreling toward the start of school without any policies in place to protect our communities.
Last year, we were primarily concerned with the health of adults inside our schools and the impact in-person instruction could have on the many students and educators living in multi-generational homes with high-risk family members. This year, we are combatting a new and more dangerous strain of COVID — one that has already sent children to the ICU. We don’t know the extent to which this new strain could affect unvaccinated students, but we do know this: even one critically ill student is one student too many.
It is imperative that schools see state-led intervention beyond advising mask wear among unvaccinated students and educators. This policy has the potential to create more problems than it solves: How will we determine who is and is not vaccinated? Are there repercussions for lying about vaccination status or choosing not to wear a mask if you are unvaccinated? Who is responsible for confirming a student’s vaccination status? Simply put: It is unfair to ask educators to become their school’s vaccination police when putting on a mask will help keep the entire school community safe and healthy.
As educators, we are tasked with molding responsible citizens; students who contribute to their communities and care for the people around them. We are facing a burgeoning crisis and doing our part – wearing masks and helping prevent the spread of COVID-19 inside our schools – is a most responsible and appropriate course of action for students and educators as we all work together to keep our communities safe and healthy.
Please understand that we do not take this situation or this request lightly. Thank you for your consideration.
Erica Jones, MAE President