Parents, pediatricians hoping to discuss masks at Desoto County Schools

Published: Sep. 3, 2021 at 5:11 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - There is no mask mandate at DeSoto County Schools. The largest school district in Mississippi only recommends masks in its back to school plan, but parents say too many people are getting sick and it needs to change.

Just over 1% of Desoto County Schools’ population, or about 400 students, have COVID-19 right now.

It’s enough cases for two schools to already have to start virtual and hybrid classes. Now, a group of parents and physicians say a lot of this can be avoided if masks are just mandated in schools.

Several community members showed up at Thursday’s School Board meeting to discuss masks in school during the public comment sections. Of nine people who spoke on the topic six were in favor of keeping masks as recommendations and three asked for them to be mandated

“All of them came forth very respectful,” Desoto County Schools Superintendent Corey Uselton said.

“Since yesterday I’ve had several parents and teachers and nurses reach out to me and say thank you for speaking up we don’t know what to do,” Dr. Jessica Gartrell said.

Gartrell is a St. Jude pediatrician and parent of children at Desoto County Schools. She also spoke at Thursday’s meeting. She and other North Mississippi pediatricians have tried to reach out to district leadership to talk about a mask mandate.

The Mississippi Department of Health, the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics have all recommended universal masking in schools.

“I’m not asking for them to go with whatever I say,” Gartrell said. “We’re asking to have the conversation with the school board. Can we meet with you as a group of physicians.”

However, Gartrell hasn’t heard anything back about that. Over the last two weeks both of her school aged children have caught COVID-19.

She believes last year’s mask mandate would have prevented this from happening.

“My third grader went to school at Desoto County last year with a lot of kids in their class and they masked and took safety measures and it was effective,” Gartrell said.

Uselton said he and the school board often hear from parents and healthcare workers about different COVID-19 protocols. A mask mandate was not put in place because a statewide mandate is not in effect.

“We strongly recommend out students and staff to wear masks,” Uselton said. “We’re monitoring numbers all the time never say never with COVID.”

Gartrell just wants a chance to talk about those numbers.

“I’m frustrated,” Gartrell said. “As a parent I don’t have a voice and as a physician I don’t have a voice.”

“We appreciate all parents input,” Uselton said.

Superintendent Uselton said the school board gave him power to mandate masks in individual schools if the infection rate gets above five percent.

That happened at Lewisburg Middle School but before any masks could be mandated the school was closed for virtual school. Students will be back in the school on Thursday. Southaven High School switched to a hybrid learning model amid high infection rates at the school. It will be back to in person classes on Tuesday.

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