MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Alabama’s decision to lift the state-wide mask mandate on April 9 has given school districts a little over 30 days to decide if masks will still be a requirement inside their classrooms.
On Thursday, Gov. Kay Ivey detailed changes for restaurants, businesses and health care facilities, but did not give guidance for schools which currently require children, staff and visitors to wear masks.
Jennifer Ventress, lead nurse for the Alabama Department of Education, said the choice over whether or not masks will be worn in the classroom for the remainder of the school year will be made by each individual school system.
“Each school system, or LEA as we call them Local Education Agency, will collaborate with their superintendent and their board of education to determine what is best for that school system,” Ventress said.
Ventress went on to say that a school district’s decision to require masks after April 9 will depend on local COVID-19 case numbers within each district and community. She made it clear that the Alabama Department of Education is not giving any schools recommendations on mask wearing after the order expires.
“I think absolutely they need to look at their numbers and base it solely on the science,” Ventress said. “I don’t think that would be my place to make that decision for a school district. I think that needs to be solely based on where they are, and the information they have for their local community.”
Aside from the masks, Ventress said she believes other safety protocols like maintaining a 6 foot social distance, hand washing and sanitizing inside classrooms will remain in place even after the health order expires.
“We’ll continue to get guidance from the CDC and Alabama will accept that guidance until we have complete herd immunity and get to the numbers we are looking for,” Ventress said. “I believe the 6 foot distance, the washing of hands and keeping the work area clean, etc. will be here with us for a while.”
State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey tweeted in support of Gov. Ivey’s move to extend the mask mandate until after Easter, but he did not indicate whether or not he will encourage local school boards to require masks.
“We are very pleased and fully support the Governor’s decision to extend the face covering mandate,” he wrote. “We are also glad that she has given schools a little more than a month to adjust for our next step in returning to a more normal school day.”
Montgomery Public School Superintendent Dr. Ann Roy Moore said students and teachers that will return to face-to-face learning on April 5 will be required to wear a mask.
“As a precautionary means, I think for at least the rest of this year, we should have those masks on,” Moore said. “Unless, there is some extenuating circumstances.”
MPS announced that school personnel will return to school buildings on March 29. All students will remain on virtual learning for the week of March 29. Face-to-face learning will resume on April 5.
The Alabama Association of School Boards released the following statement regarding schools and the governor’s one-month extension of the mask order:
“We applaud Governor Ivey for her extension of the mask order until April 9. School boards appreciate the lead time given so they have time to plan for policies should they want to continue mask requirements in schools after the statewide order expires. While AASB has not made any recommendations regarding masks, we encourage school boards to make decisions based on data. We hope school boards will continue to evaluate trends in their communities to make decisions that ensure the health and safety of students and staff.”
According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, over the past week there have been 848 total COVID-19 case numbers reported across Alabama’s K-12 schools, that is 133 fewer cases from the week prior.
For more information on what ADPH is doing to keep students safe in the classroom, refer to their Back to School Toolkit.