Mask-wearing will be required in Lafayette Parish public schools when students return next week after the School Board approved a pandemic reopening plan at its Wednesday meeting, where a range of views on mask-wearing were on display as parents both pushed against and advocated for it.

Mask-wearing will be required for employees, students in pre-K through 12th grade and visitors. The plan also calls for at least twice-daily cleaning of high-traffic surfaces like desks, light switches and door handles, and on-campus visitation will be limited to essential visitors.

The School Board voted 7-0 to approve the district’s 2021-22 Learn Lafayette Reopening Plan. Board members Kate Labue and Hannah Smith Mason were absent. 

The mask requirement falls in line with Gov. John Bel Edwards’ recent mask mandate requiring proper mask usage for people ages 5 and up while “in any place outside of a private residence,” like a business, school or church. Masks are also recommended for children ages 2-4 when possible.

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The mandate will remain in place until Sept. 1, with the potential for an extension.

Students are due back in the classroom on Aug. 12; students in grades 1-12 will attend on an A/B hybrid schedule for the first two days, then begin full attendance on Aug. 16. Students in A groups have odd home addresses and students in B groups have even home addresses.

Residents and parents debated students wearing masks at Wednesday’s meeting, with some espousing anti-mask rhetoric and debunked theories about the coronavirus while others pleaded for the board to maintain required mask usage beyond the Sept. 1 mandate deadline.

Kevin Anthony and Shelley Woosley said children would lose out on elements of social-emotional interaction like smiles, hugs and cues from facial expressions because of masks and were alarmed at the potential impacts to their mental health.

Both also referenced a debunked online conspiracy theory about the virus’s existence.

“You expect me to send my children into your care knowing that they can’t hug?” Woosley said. “They can’t even get a hug? ... How is it your right to tell me what I should put on and in my child’s body? Unmask our children. Let them be kids.”

Julia Reed, president of the Lafayette Parish Association of Educators, said her group, which represents roughly 1,000 educators in the district, supports the reopening plan and urges the district to maintain masking in schools as long as it’s recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Paul Breaux Middle English teacher said it was personally difficult to listen to parents advocate against safety measures that have protected students and teachers during in-person learning while ignoring established and broadly accepted science around COVID-19.

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“It is difficult to hear that people don’t want the masks because it is difficult to get the kids to wear them, it is difficult to wear them, it is an inconvenience,” she said. “But what’s more inconvenient is not having students in school, is not having students at all, not having educators at all.”

The CDC recommends everyone in K-12 schools — including teachers, staff, students and visitors — wear masks. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends everyone in schools over age 2 wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.

Yvette Cassidy, who has three daughters in the school system, challenged board members to be more clear about the cleaning measures and sanitation products being used in schools. She also spoke against mask usage, with concerns about mask sanitation, and said she’s considering moving somewhere masks aren’t required in schools.

“I’m on the verge of moving to a different parish or moving to a different state,” Cassidy said. “Look at Florida. The kids are not getting sick. They are open. They are going to school with no masks. It’s a parent’s choice, not your choice. It’s ours.”

Data from health officials in Florida, however, disagree, indicating 135 children under age 12 were hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 cases statewide as of Tuesday along with others hospitalized with suspected cases. Florida has one of the highest pediatric hospitalization rates in the country, The Miami Herald reported.

According to data from the Florida Department of Health, 10,785 children under age 12 were diagnosed with COVID-19 between July 23 and 29.

100 Black Men of Greater Lafayette education chair Chip Jackson, a member of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System Board of Supervisors, said he couldn’t stand the misinformation being spread at the School Board meeting. He said he and members of 100 Black Men support the mask mandate and adhering to CDC guidelines.

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“I didn’t plan on speaking this evening, but I just can’t stand here and listen to this in a place that’s supposed to be all about education,” Jackson said. “This miseducation, that’s what it is. Two things: I get sick and tired of hearing the word ‘community’ thrown around as if the people that speak represent the total community. They do not.”

Pamela Thibeaux, whose granddaughters attend Lafayette Parish schools, detailed her experience being infected with COVID-19 at last year’s school reopening meeting. This year, she said her daughter and 12-year-old granddaughter are at home after contracting the delta variant, suffering from body aches, chest pains, difficulty breathing, fevers and stomach problems, among other symptoms.

“This is a 12-year-old having to deal with those types of pains in her body,” Thibeaux said. “If that child were to go to the hospital, her mom couldn’t be there, her dad couldn’t be there, nobody could be there. ... When y’all make your decisions, think about that. That could be one of your kids or one of your grandkids and they would have to go through the same thing. We don’t want to see nobody’s kids go through that.”

The grandmother urged board members to consider delaying the start of school. A motion from board member Donald Aguillard to offer hybrid learning on an A/B attendance schedule through Sept. 15 failed in a 2-5 vote.


Email Katie Gagliano at kgagliano@theadvocate.com