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Gulfport schools spend last day with mask mandate

Published: Nov. 19, 2021 at 4:37 PM CST
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - The Gulfport School District will lift its mask mandate when classes resume on Nov. 29 after the Thanksgiving holiday.

That means Friday was the last day students and staff will be required to wear them. Educators said there’s no doubt that masks have helped to keep COVID-19 from spreading.

But there’s also no doubt they’ve been a pain.

“It does provide that safety feature of keeping the teachers and the students healthy,” said Rachel Gillenwater, 28th Street Elementary School teacher. “But with that, there are challenges. I find it very difficult to speak. I can’t project my voice like I’d like to. You know, facial expressions. I’m used to using those with my students, and they know the look.”

And it’s been hard on the students as well.

“Sometimes it does make it hard to, learn and to focus on your work - what you’re doing,” said fifth-grade student Jameeya Bernard. “And when you’re reading. And, like right now, it’s hot.”

Classmate Ke’Lijah Coleman had his issues as well.

“Whenever I run too much or do too much, it makes me hard for me to breathe,” he said. “I have to separate from everybody and pull it down for a quick second.”

But even with the problems, and even with the mask mandate lifted in the Gulfport School District, the lessons learned won’t be forgotten.

Students and teachers said they are keeping their options open and their masks at hand.

“Yes, because it would be a lot of COVID cases,” said fifth-grader Ervin Thornton. “I will keep my mask on because my mama wants me to.”

And Jameeya will be ready as well.

“I’m going to still bring one just in case,” she said. “And if someone is like sniffling or coughing or sneezing, I’m going to wear it around them.”

And some are offering a warning.

“If people stop wearing masks, the hospitals start filling back up and there will be less rooms for ... let’s say someone has a seizure,” Ke’Lijah said. “There might not be a room for that person.”

Nearly all public school districts in South Mississippi have lifted mask mandates in recent weeks as the number of COVID-19 cases have shown a sharp decline.

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