MADISON COUNTY, Ala. – Several parents held signs and shouted chants outside the Madison County Board of Education meeting Tuesday night. The parents were there to express their frustration with the district’s face mask requirement.
Buckhorn parent Cheri Harr says she has been at the last three school board meetings and she plans to keep showing up until the district reverses the policy.
“We understand some parents want to send their kids to school with a mask,” Harr said. “But every county around us has ended their mask mandate.”
Some of the parents who protested the mask mandate said they’re not denying that the pandemic is an issue. However, they believe the school board should not be able to require their children to wear masks.
“We are just here to advocate for our kids. It’s our choice. They are our children. We get to make those decisions,” Madison County parent Merilee Sharp. Sharp said her son is developmentally and speech delayed, and the mask requirement has hindered his learning because he’s not able to read his teacher’s lips.
Inside the meeting, nine total parents addressed the Board of Education. All of them spoke about the mask policy. No items on the meeting agenda were related to the mask policy.
Seven of the parents who spoke did so in opposition of the masking requirement. Two of those identified as health care professionals.
Belinda Newell, who said she has been a registered nurse for 16 years, argued that the board should not be allowed to override a parent’s personal choice when it comes to masking.
“Pediatric medical professionals, who are qualified and trained, still have to respect parental decisions regarding pediatric care,” Newell said. She asked the board, “What makes you think you are any different?”.
Two parents at the meeting spoke in support of the mask mandate and asked the board members to keep it in place.
Christy Goodwin, who identified as a respiratory therapist, said many other concerned health care workers were unable to attend the meeting due to the added shifts they’ve had to work because of the pandemic. She asked the board to remain objective on the issue.
“I know masks have sadly become a polarized political issue, and I would ask the board to remember this is not about politics, but about safety,” Goodwin said.
In response to comments that some parents would vote school board members out if they didn’t get rid of the mask mandate, Madison County parent Claudia Gilbert said she would stand in opposition to that effort.
“I will fight to keep you voted in, no matter what it takes, if you decide to keep the masks. So they will have a fight on their hands,” Gilbert said.
The debate comes just one day after Madison County School officials announced a third-grade teacher at Lynn Fanning Elementary School died of COVID-19. As of the district’s latest COVID-19 dashboard update on September 8th, there were 302 positive cases of coronavirus among students and staff district-wide.
Madison County Schools started the school year under a mask optional policy. District officials implemented a mask requirement after a significant number of the school population contracted the virus within the first week of school.
Ultimately, board president Dave Weis says they will continue to follow COVID-19 guidance from state and federal health officials, and he urged parents with concerns about the guidance to contact the Alabama Department of Public Health.