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Some districts switch to mask optional policies, parents and health leaders express concern

FILE - In this Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, file photo, students, some wearing protective masks,...
FILE - In this Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, file photo, students, some wearing protective masks, arrive for the first day of school at Sessums Elementary School in Riverview, Fla. The on-again, off-again ban imposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to prevent mandating masks for Florida school students is back in force. The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Friday, Sept. 10, that a Tallahassee judge should not have lifted an automatic stay two days ago that halted enforcement of the mask mandate ban.(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)
Published: Sep. 20, 2021 at 7:59 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Several districts recently announced updated policies that could relax universal masking in schools, but some parents and health leaders are expressing concerns it may be too soon to make changes.

Hoover City Schools announced it will relax masking if district COVID cases drop. Chilton County and Vestavia Hills City Schools both switched to mask optional policies Monday after reporting decreases in positive case reports.

Some Vestavia Hills City School parents in particular want the district to keep the universal mask policy in place a little longer.

“We were surprised to see that,” said Dr. Shahid Mukhtar, Vestavia Hills City School parent. ”If it’s working, why would we eliminate those measures that are working. Now, we’re going back to square one.”

Dr. Mukhtar says he balances the concerns as a medical professional and parent of a child not eligible for the COVID vaccine.

Based on the district COVID dashboard, the number of student positive cases dropped by 38 between September 3rd and September 10th. Some Vestavia Hills City School parents say the data means masks are keeping more students protected and in school and the changes in the policy bring concern long-term.

“The idea is not to go on this roller coaster or peaks and valleys. Up and down with positive COVID. It’s to flatten the curve,” said Brain Malcom, Vestavia Hills City School Parent. “We need to have a policy that will be in place until all school age children are eligible for the vaccine, which could be very soon.”

Pfizer recently announced updated data about the effectiveness of the vaccine in children 5 - 11 years old.

The state health tool kit for schools urges districts to implement a universal mask policy. Jefferson County’s top health officer pointed to that guidance Monday when asked about districts shifting to mask optional policies.

“I’m aware that some school districts are making their own decisions based on metrics and I think it’s good to have metrics, but I think it’s too early to loosen up on those mitigation measures,” said Dr. Mark Wilson, Jefferson County Department of Public Health.

The state department of health toolkit for schools is based on guidance from the CDC and Dr. Wilson says it’s designed to keep students in the classroom. The county’s top health officer says COVID transmission in the community is still too high right now and that’s why masks are still important for the time being.

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