Gulfport schools ‘strongly encourage’ masks in the classroom this year

Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 7:36 PM CDT
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Gulfport School District students are beginning classes this week amid rising COVID-19 cases and a low vaccination rate.

Gov. Tate Reeves said he will not require masks at schools this year, meaning it’s up to each school district to decide how it will handle the fourth wave.

“We required masks last year of everybody,” said Gulfport School District Superintendent Glen East on Wednesday. “So now we’ve got the vaccine piece out there, we’ve offered it for our students, for our teachers. So our masking policy for this year are masks are strongly encouraged to come to school every day, especially for those who are underneath 12 years of age.”

Because a vaccine is not yet available for students under 12, East said they are more vulnerable to infection, especially the delta variant.

“So I’m wearing my mask today as superintendent,” he said. “I’ve been vaccinated, but those young kids need to understand that it’s important to keep that mask on if you don’t have the privilege of vaccination right now.”

Harrison County is currently at a 33% vaccination rate, in line with the state average. East said he felt that his students and teachers are at a higher rate than that.

“Our parents and students have been very supportive,” East said. “I’ve had a lot of students get vaccinations. Teachers have gotten vaccinations, so we really feel good going into this school year, but we all know we’re going to have a positive case sometime, and how that isolation comes out will also change some parents’ minds, I think.”

East said students who test positive for COVID-19 but have not been vaccinated will have a 10-day quarantine. They will be able to use remote learning tools during that time. Students who test positive but have been vaccinated will not have to quarantine.

“We’re trying hard not to get into the collection of the cards because really and truly, that’s a personal thing for me and for you,” he said. “And then we’re also recommending the masks, so you’ve got some choices to make as a family on how you want to handle that situation.”

Without state mandates, East said it will be up to the parents and students to decide what the right thing to do is.

“The difference in this year and last year is last year we were, ‘here’s what you have to do because there were no options.’ This year you’ve got parent and family options to take. I can get my child vaccinated. I can require my child to wear a mask,” he said.

East said it is “up to the parents to make the good decisions.”

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