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Alabama’s superintendent talks Delta variant and face mask mandates

Published: Sep. 2, 2021 at 8:39 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Alabama’s top educator said he expects to see more schools going to mandatory masking and remote learning as the Delta variant continues to spread across the state.

Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey said he’s worried about the spread of the Delta variant. He fears thousands of Alabama school children are behind in their learning and if the pandemic is not brought under control, it will take even longer for them to catch them up.

When the Alabama school year opened, educators and health leaders believed schools could return to in-class learning free of masking. But the spread of the Delta variant quickly changed their opinion from what they expected to happen.

“Some outbreaks in some place in October and what we had were multiple outbreaks in places in August. We had to jump into those contingency plans than what we thought we would have to,” Mackey said.

Dr. Mackey says he expects by the end of the week, 90% of all state schools will go to mandatory face coverings. He also expected to see a growing number of remote learning, at least for a limited time. He is not expecting any sort of a mandate from the state board or Governor Ivey.

What he doesn’t want to see is a shutdown of classes because of the latest surge.

“The good thing is our vaccination rate among our adults in our schools is going up pretty dramatically. If we can get all of our adults fully vaccinated, I think we will be able to avoid shutdowns,” Mackey said.

The superintendent said more students are getting infected than last year. Most are not infected with severe symptoms, but Dr. Mackey said Children’s of Alabama has more of their students sicker than last year.

He admitted thousands of students are already behind in their learning. “It’s going to take two or three or four years to dig out of this hole we are in instructionally, but if this year is as disruptive as last year, it will take even more time than that,” Mackey said.

Mackey said there are plans for not extending the school year, but more summer programs will be offered to help bring students back up to speed. The superintendent continued to stress to keep schools open and to keep students in the classroom, all eligible students and adults need to get vaccinated.

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