Cullman County, Alabama Schools Superintendent Shane Barnette apologized to parents in a video Monday for "alarming" them about scheduling a meeting of the school board to discuss implementing a mask mandate. He assured parents there would be no meeting – and no mask mandate – because he opposes masks as do the other school board members.
Nearly 400 students in the small county are out on COVID-19 related absence after the first week of classes, according to the Alabama Political Reporter. Those students either have tested positive for the coronavirus or have been exposed to someone who has.
"I know I alarmed some of you by putting out a notice that we were going to have a special called board meeting relative to masks, but I'll tell you this because of laws and staying transparent, we have to give a 24 hour notice in case we want to have a meeting. But after I spoke to the board members, there was no meeting needed."
There was no meeting needed because there will be no discussion on masks, despite the current COVID absences being higher than any day in the previous school year.
"We're not requiring masks," Barnette says in the video (below). "I want that to be a parent's choice. I think that's important for, for whatever reasons, some people believe in masks, some people don't. And I'm not here to debate that today that's a parent's choice."
He urged parents to keep children home if they have COVID or were exposed to someone who does, "to keep our kids safe."
“A lot of our numbers right now are students that are coming to school, either exposed at home, or they've already shown symptoms or tested positive, and we've sent them on to school," Barnette said. “I need those students to stay at home and just report that to the school that they've either been exposed, or that they've tested positive."
But he repeatedly assured parents masks would not be mandated.
"I don't like masks. I know some people do, and once again, I'm not here to debate that," Barnette said.
Alabama Political Reporter notes that the "Alabama Department of Public Health, the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other groups all recommend universal masking in schools," and adds that "a group of Alabama pediatricians ... wrote a letter urging schools to require universal masking."