Lee County Schools to Require Masks, SSHS to Close for Two Weeks


By Wil Crews

Last week, the Lee County Schools Board and the Lee County Nursing Department decided to implement a mask mandate within its schools — something that was optional prior to the decision — and released information on its COVID-19 close-contact policies for students attending Lee County Schools in 2021-22. Furthermore, in wake of the recent COVID-19 policies changes, and a growing number of COVID cases within Lee County Schools, the Lee County Board of Education announced Tuesday that Smiths Station High School will transition to a blended learning model beginning Wednesday, Aug. 25 and lasting until Sept. 7. The following is an update on all policies and decisions recently made by the Lee County Schools Board of Education.

Regarding Masks:

Superintendent Dr. James McCoy released a letter explaining the county’s decision to revert from mask-optional standards, to mask-mandated.

In the statement, McCoy explains, “as stated on record in the Lee County Schools Board of Education meetings July 27, 2021, and August 10, 2021, a commitment has been made to closely monitor the status of COVID infections and positives testing rates in our local area … To date we have incorporated many efforts to protect our students and employees, which include enforcing physical distancing expectations, improving ventilation mechanisms, encouraging frequent disinfecting and cleaning of our buildings, as well as promoting proper handwashing and respiratory etiquette.”

Despite these things, McCoy still cited that through the week of Aug. 9 to 13, the county’s schools yielded 105 positive cases of COVID-19. The first two days of the second week yielded an additional 88 cases as well. Thusly, the board has made the decision as of Aug. 20 to mandate mask-wearing in the schools.

“The primary goal of our school system is to educate children in the safest environment we can provide. We must be open in order to provide the best possible quality education. In an effort to remain open for in-person learning, at this time we must add an additional, specific mitigation strategy. As of Monday, August 23, 2021, facial coverings/masks will be required for all individuals while indoors at any Lee County Schools facility,” the statement read.

Regarding COVID-Contact:

Earlier this month, the board announced that it will adopt an optional mask-wearing stance for all students this school year, except for on buses. Despite this, the board recommended that “all employees, students and adults wear a mask while indoors on Lee County Campuses and property.”

We now know the board has reversed its stance on optional-masking, alternatively choosing to mandate them given the number of COVID-19 cases seen in the first two weeks of school. The information below, however, remains relevant for when a student contacts COVID-19 or comes in close contact with someone who has the virus.

In the open letter to parents and guardians, the board declared its policies regarding students who have come in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, stating, “Per Alabama Department of Public Health guidelines, if your child is not fully vaccinated and was not wearing a mask, he/she should remain at home for ten days.”

The statement continued to say that if your child is fully vaccinated and/or was wearing a mask when exposed to COVID-19, then he she may continue attending school, unless the following symptoms are exhibited: Fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, muscle or body aches, headaches, new loss of smell or taste, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting or diarrhea.

The statement concluded by saying, “Although these are not all the symptoms associated with COVID-19, these are the most common. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure; if your child develops any of these symptoms listed above you might need to take him/her to the doctor for evaluation. Although masks are not mandated in Lee County Schools, we urge each and every household to continue taking individual responsibility to help mitigate the spread of this virus. It is only through individual efforts that we will be able to keep the school open. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to your child’s school nurse.”

Regarding Schools and Blended Learning:

The board announced Tuesday that Smiths Station High School would transition to a blended learning model beginning Wednesday Aug. 25, and lasting until Tuesday, Sept. 7.

According to the Lee County Schools Board website, “all extracurricular activities will continue,” at the school, barring any changes. The following is a breakdown of how the transition to blended learning will occur.

According to the website, “teachers will present live instruction via Zoom during regularly scheduled class times.” Those class times are: 1st block will Zoom from 8:45 to 10:15 a.m.; 2nd block will Zoom from 10:30 a.m. to noon; 3rd block will Zoom from 12:45 to 2:15 p.m.; 4th block will Zoom from 2:30 to 4 p.m.

The website goes on to say that “breakfast will be served at the back door of the cafeteria from 8:15 to 8:45 a.m., and lunch will be served from noon to 1 p.m.; the SSHS student will need to be in the vehicle for service.”

Additionally, the board announced that Beulah High School’s and Wacoochee Elementary School’s co-curricular and extracurricular school activities will be canceled through Aug. 29.

This is a developing story.


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