By Hannah Lester 

The Auburn City School Board voted during its meeting on Tuesday to require masks/face coverings for students during the first six weeks of school. 

“With the priority of returning safely to full-time, in-person learning on campus, I recommend the revision of the Auburn City Schools Fall 2021 Return To Learning Plan with the modification to masking requirements,” said Superintendent Dr. Kristen Herring. “… With respect for the position and opinion of each student and stakeholder, I am committed to the diligent study of our school data, the data of our local community and the assessment of our safe return to school.”

Masking will only be required for the first six weeks of school, seven weeks from the date the mandate was instituted. Then, the data will be reevaluated, Herring said, and she will present another report to the board on Sept. 14. 

Twenty-five parents and students spoke during the meeting. The majority were against the masking requirement, though two spoke in favor of masking. 

One parent said she was concerned with how the requirement would be enforced. Another said he wanted to know what data was being utilized to make the decision. 

The majority were concerned with freedom of choice and parental autonomy over their children.

One parent, Jason Pratt, said he supported masking children in the school system. 

“The data says that the masks I’m wearing are up to 70% effective of blocking, of me transmitting it to you,” he said. “… It’s protecting me 17%. So if I want to protect myself I can choose to wear a mask or not. I’m wearing a mask to protect you. The whole point is, we should have our children protecting each other.”

Pratt was interrupted multiple times by parents and Charles Smith, president of the school board, had to warn parents that the meeting would need to be adjusted if interruptions continued. 

Some parents were concerned with health issues they said masks present, such as anxiety and depression.

Andrea Tobin said that her son has been in speech therapy for years, and struggles to communicate with a mask on.

“He could not talk, he could not articulate,” she said. “I don’t want my baby boy going into the second grade not being able to articulate himself, not being able to hear himself speaking because of his mask.”

A local optometrist and parent, Helen Hadley, said that masks make learning difficult for children with glasses and masking requirements have affected their learning. 

After listening to all of the parents speak, Herring made her recommendation. Herring did not finish her statement before parents began screaming and leaving the room. 

“We are faced with challenging decisions and local data that places us in a difficult position, which is why we are asking teachers, staff, students and families in Auburn City Schools to give us the opportunity to reacclimate to a school environment and assess our situation,” Herring said. “If we are able to demonstrate an ability to bring students and staff together safely, we will reconsider this requirement.”

The board then made its decision to require masks in the school and on the bus. Masks will not   be required outdoors. 

Additionally, according to CDC guidelines, if students are exposed, and have had COVID-19 in the last 90 days, are vaccinated or properly masked, they will not need to quarantine.