The Tuscaloosa City Schools Board of Education voted 5-2 to adopt an extension on the current mask requirement in all facilities until November 19.

At the previous board meeting, TCS Superintendent Mike Daria said he believed it was the appropriate time to consider transitioning to a "masks optional" policy. While some board members were in agreement, several expressed a desire to extend the mandate again. That same sentiment was expressed by several principals within the system.

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"Several but not all of the board members expressed the need to extend the mask requirement," Daria said. "I have to take that perspective into consideration as this does become the policy of the Board of Education."

Under his recommendation proposed Tuesday, masks would remain required with a sunset on November 19. If the two-week positive case average rose above one percent, the mask requirement would be reinstated until that number returned below the threshold.

There will also not be another board meeting to discuss the transition to masks optional in the future.

Daria had several points of reference for his recommendation, including a couple notable pieces of data:

  • As of Tuesday, TCS had 12 student cases and 2 staff cases across its 21 facilities
  • The most recent two-week average percentage of positive cases within the system was .26 percent

The Alabama Department of Public Health issued another statement Tuesday recommending the continuation of a universal indoor masking policy in schools, which Daria mentioned.

Tuscaloosa City Schools is comprised of over 10,000 students, and has consistently kept a low percentage of positive cases in its schools since the start of the 2021-22 school year while keeping a firm mask mandate in place.

Many board members talked about their differing viewpoints, whether that be in favor of or against masks, and agreed that this in-the-middle compromise not only best protects the students, but demonstrates the teamwork amongst the TCS Board.

"I'm a little disappointed with this particular extension. I respect your opinion," said District 6 Board Member Marvin Lucas. "I understand the hardship that our community is facing... I would like for the mask extension to be extended beyond the holiday travel season. I think that would give us an ample amount of time to figure out what's going on with the data that's presented."

"It's disheartening that [an audience member] comes up here crying because a child left from school and not only did she infect her whole family, because she contracted [COVID] at school, but her Daddy died... And then we get up here before this podium and cry because our child said he can't see his smile. Take the mask off when you're at home, but when you're at school children are in each others' face... All we're trying to do is the only thing that we can," said District 5 Board Member Erica Grant. ""This is no one's personal problem. No one taps the button that says 'play COVID.' It's something in the world that we all have to deal with."

"When the numbers started at the beginning of the year were sky high, both in our system and our community, the numbers demanded and justified a mask mandate. I voted for that twice, and then the numbers changed," said Board Chair Eric Wilson. "It tells our our constituents that a masking policy will expire at some point, and the data supports that ending now."

For the latest data on COVID-19 inside Tuscaloosa City Schools, follow their up-to-date COVID Tracker here.

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