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Reeves has ‘no intention’ to require masks during school year, contradicting state & federal health experts

Districts across the state release plans for start of school without updated guidance from state’s health department
Published: Jul. 12, 2021 at 8:41 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Parents expecting a last-minute executive order mandating masks in schools this fall won’t see it this year, a spokesperson for Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday, a statement that stands in apparent contradiction of his own state health experts who have been considering requiring face coverings for unvaccinated students and staff.

“Governor Reeves has no intention of requiring students or staff to wear masks when they’re in school this Fall (sic),” Reeves’ press secretary, Bailey Martin, said in an email to WLBT.

The statement came days after a news conference from the Mississippi State Department of Health where state health leaders discussed new CDC guidance that recommends masks for certain individuals during school hours.

“We will be updating schools with some Mississippi-specific components of that guidance, that certainly there will be considerations for mask utilization for unvaccinated individuals,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said Friday to reporters as MSDH released new guidance to protect high-risk groups in the state.

The guidelines from the CDC do not recommend masks for those students and staff who have been fully vaccinated, however.

The statement from Reeves’ office stands in stark contrast to his own health experts’ possible leanings, though official guidance for schools has not yet been updated by MSDH, leaving school districts to base their ‘return to school’ plans on recommendations from last August.

“Certainly, there are going to be modifications to that based on vaccination status, and, you know, there’s been a recommendation now, for quite some time, that individuals who are fully vaccinated don’t require quarantine, they don’t require testing, unless those individuals become symptomatic,” Byers said. “So that will certainly be a component of our guidance.”

3 On Your Side asked Martin about the apparent disconnect between state health experts and remarks from Reeves’ office, but that question has yet to be answered.

Several school districts in the Jackson metro are planning a full return to in-person learning this fall, giving options for students to use remote learning only if specific medical or health conditions require that.

The Clinton Public School District has decided to make mask-wearing optional for students and staff, but that could change based on COVID-19 outbreaks or updates to local, state or federal policies.

“What we have to do is, is be flexible, and understand that at the end of it, one of our goals of our strategic plan for the Clinton Public School District is the health and wellness of our students and our staff,” Superintendent Andy Schoggin said. “As things occur, we may have to adjust.”

Schoggin said his district is stronger going into this school year because of what they had to deal with during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clinton isn’t alone in its approach; Madison County Schools also plans to make masks optional this fall.

Both districts will require face coverings for those riding school buses, though.

“We’ll do temperature checks for all of our students, hand sanitizer, and hand sanitization, all of those things aimed at the health and wellness of students and staff. We’ll continue to distance in our classrooms and have those set apart as much as possible,” Schoggin said.

Jackson Public Schools spokesperson Sherwin Johnson told 3 On Your Side the district’s ‘Return to Learn Plan’ will require facial coverings for all students and staff.

“We are aware and closely monitor the guidance from our local and state health officials and vaccination rates among Mississippians,” Johnson said in an emailed statement. “The district will continue to take all necessary precautions to ensure our schools remain safe learning and working environments.”

The city of Jackson remains the only municipality in Mississippi which still has a mask mandate in place as well.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba has said he will only lift the mandate once vaccination rates in the county are at acceptable levels.

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