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Superintendent shares why Madison City Schools moved to 'mask preferred' status

'In our elementary schools, they're somewhere between 86% and 89% masked by choice,' said Dr. Ed Nichols.

Posted: Sep 20, 2021 6:09 PM
Updated: Sep 20, 2021 6:57 PM

The superintendent of one of North Alabama's largest school districts is giving more details on his reason for changing the status from mask mandatory to mask preferred. 

The school district made the change, starting Monday, but some parents are frustrated by the change in guidance. 

"Well, I was very shocked when I saw they changed the mandate saying cases were going down," said Gayatri Venkatraman, physician and Madison City Schools parent. 

Venkatraman says the only reason we're seeing a dip in positive cases is because people are wearing their masks and more people are getting vaccinated. 

Health officials in the state say the Delta Variant is more transmissible in children, but there isn't a statewide mask mandate for Alabama school districts. 

Madison City Schools Superintendent Dr. Ed Nichols said of the state, "They've empowered and given us the responsibility for health decisions, and they have refused to make them."

Dr. Nichols said superintendents across the state are frustrated and left with a lack of guidance. 

Right now, school districts are asked to track Covid-19 infection rates in their community and make guidance according to it. That leaves the weight of health care decisions on the shoulders of educators. 

"I think this is the best decision, I felt good about making it," said Dr. Nichols. 

Monday, the first day of switching to mask preferred, and already, Dr. Nichols said most students are continuing to wear their masks. 

"In our elementary schools, they're somewhere between 86% and 89% masked by choice," said Dr. Nichols. "As you get higher up in the grades where vaccination is possible, they're probably more like 75/25."

If the positivity rate does go up, Dr. Nichols said they won't hesitate to go back to making masks mandatory. 

"I committed to looking at the number, I committed that five weeks ago and the numbers are very low, but I also commit if they're not going to stay there then we would go back [to masks]," said Dr. Nichols. 

Venkatraman said she feels like now, administrators, teachers, and students are equally at risk. 

"I truly hope the mask preferred word, that they understand it and all model it in their behavior, the teacher and staff particularly," said Venkatraman. 

Some parents, striking back against the new status. A petition was created for an injunction against Madison City Schools mask preferred status. 

"I think I could speak for every superintendent in the state of Alabama that would say we'd be glad if somebody would make a decision because we're not getting any from Montgomery," said Dr. Nichols.

"So if they get a petition and go for an injunction, and a judge says that we can't do that, then that's totally the judge's right to make that decision and I'll accept it and move forward with it."

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