Teachers express mixed feelings on mask policies for new school year

Back to School 2021

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Following the mask mandate for Huntsville City Schools, the Alabama Education Association is sharing what their teachers are feeling. AEA also expects more schools to follow Huntsville and Birmingham with masking policies before school starts.

The Alabama Education Association has ‘reps’ for different school districts. The reps are supposed to keep a pulse on issues and represent teachers as districts make decisions. The rep for Madison County and Madison City Schools said as soon as Huntsville required masks, her phone started buzzing with comments and questions.

“Our poor employees and teachers. Last year was so stressful,” said Beverly Sims, AEA’s District 3 Director.

Sims said teacher reactions to the idea of wearing masks to start the school year has been mixed. Almost literally down the middle. Meanwhile, quickly after moving to require masks, Huntsville City School Board members said they were met with threats from angry parents.

“What if they are teaching and a kid walks in without a mask and the parents get involved…maybe pull their kids out. This could get really heated. Are teachers worried or prepared for this?” News 19 asked.

“We dealt a lot with that last year,” said Sims. “They (teachers) don’t have the time or energy to fight with parents over this. They’ve (the board) made the decision. They’ve passed the policy. The parents need to…they need to be an example.”

Sims says away from her job, for her, it seems logical to protect staff and families by starting school with masks during a spike in COVID-19 cases. Sims works closely with superintendents and has observed that districts typically follow what they are given from the state. She says the line of communication between districts and Montgomery hasn’t been great when it comes to COVID-19 planning for the upcoming school year.

“They need guidance. I’m just going to put it out there. They don’t always get the guidance that they need. They are kind of left out to dry,” said Sims.

As districts look for guidance, state health officer Dr. Scott Harris maintains districts are on their own.

“Those decisions are going to be left to local school boards. Those decisions aren’t going to be made by the state. But our public health guidance says mask-wearing should be done by those who are not vaccinated,” said Dr. Harris.

Huntsville City School’s current AEA director, William Tunnell expects masking requirements will pop up as needed to help keep schools healthy and open.

“Traditionally all through the last school year, our districts almost to the school system followed the CDC or at the very most the ADPH guidelines. I believe a lot more school systems will follow Huntsville City’s suit,” said Tunnell.

The Alabama Education Association says frustration from parents may only cause more teachers to leave education. Many districts are already seeing fewer new teachers for this upcoming school year as well as more retirements.

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