When it comes to Bryan County Schools mask mandate, members of the Bryan County Board of Education heard it from both sides at their March 25 meeting in Richmond Hill.
Steven Asplund, who has a daughter at Richmond Hill High School, gave the BoE a public pat on the back for their efforts to make the school system safe for children during the COVID-19 pandemic, though he did so without mentioning the word “mask.”
“I wanted to let you know how much your leadership is appreciated,” Asplund said. “This last year has been very difficult, and I know you have very difficult decisions to make. I am grateful for decisions made to give kids as much of a normal school year as you could.”
He said as a result of BoE decisions, high school students had the chance to play sports and participate in other extracurricular activities, and his daughter “felt safe entering the school and remarked that the teachers and administration took every precaution to ensure the safety of all the students.
“All of you have very difficult jobs,” Asplund said, “and I just wanted you to know the decisions you made gave our kids multiple opportunities to excel, and wanted to make sure whatever decision you make about the remainder of this year and next year, it will be taking into consideration what is best for the many.”
Asplund was followed by Kaity Whitehurst, one of a group of parents who’ve started a petition on Change.org to get the school system to reconsider its mandate. The petition has more than 600 signatures, though it’s unclear how many are from local parents.
Whitehurst said she “was speaking on behalf of hundreds,” impacted by the school board’s decision to require masks despite what she said was science that failed to show the masks stop the spread of COVID-19 among children. She referenced other area districts where masks are optional or only required in certain areas, and said those districts are thriving.
“And with all due respect, we are tired of hearing this is an adult problem, not a student problem,” Whitehurst said, “and that these kids are resilient. You are 100 percent correct with this being an adult problem. We have a huge problem with you requiring our children wear a mask the duration of the school day when the science does not support it mitigating the spread of the virus (in children).”
Whitehurst continued “additionally, there’s a reason our children are so resilient. It’s because we are at home teaching them to respect authority and follow the rules. That does not make it OK to put them in masks for six or seven hours a day.”
She said the BoE failed to include parents in its decision to mandate the wearing of masks, and told board members “it’s time to start choosing compassion over compliance, and allow our children to smile at their friends and teachers. We know these children are healthy and happy at home and around the community, and it’s time to allow them to do the same at school.”
The phrase, “compassion over compliance,” was used last year by Georgia State Superintendent Richard Woods in an open letter to school district’s, parents, students and teachers, though not in a reference to masks.
It was instead a message to school districts urging they focus on students’ health and safety rather than test scores.
There are no plans at present to change the district’s mask mandate this year, according to an email sent Wednesday by Bryan County BoE Chairwoman Amy Murphy on behalf of the school board.
“Currently the Bryan County School System plans to continue the rest of the 2020-2021 school year with the current practices of a mask mandate for students and staff. Any changes in our practices for next school year will be evaluated closer to the start of the 2021-2022 school year,” the email said.
The state left it up to individual school districts to decide whether to require students wear masks, and many in Georgia allow a choice, including nearby Bulloch County, where masks are “strongly encouraged, especially in settings where social distancing is difficult to accomplish; buses, hallway transitions, school meal distribution, student drop-off and pick up, etc.,” according to the website.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the “universal wearing of face masks in schools for adults and for all children older than 2 years,” and the CDC website also recommends “all people 2 years of age and older wear a mask in public settings and when around people who don’t live in their household,” though it also notes there are instances when some children should not wear masks due to health or other reasons.
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