By Michelle Price
Special to the UCBJ
PUTNAM COUNTY – On Tuesday, the CDC reversed course and issued revised mask guidance recommending that school staff and students wear masks while indoors regardless of vaccination status. Despite this change, Putnam County Schools will still make masks optional, leaving the decision on whether or not to wear one up to students, parents and educators.
“I think people are just ready to be back and have some normalcy,” said Putnam County Director of Schools Corby King.
Although the school system plans to continue spacing students and distancing wherever possible within classrooms, they plan to go back to regular operations as much as possible.
“Right now, the Board is continuing mask optional,” King said. “They (the Board) are speaking with local doctors and medical professionals – the Board stays very in touch with the community and what’s going on and is making their decision based on what’s going on in our local community.”
School Board members aren’t just going on local opinions to make this decision, according to King they are closely monitoring community data.
“They are monitoring the communication rate in the community, and they are monitoring the numbers in the hospital,” explained King. “Right now, they are moving forward with mask optional, but if at any time that needs to change, they will have a special called board meeting, or they will do it in a regular called board meeting, to address any changes to the current guidance.”
The effects of COVID-19 on education have been far-reaching affecting everything from masking to dining and have curtailed observers at many extracurricular activities and sports.
“We are hoping to stay normal,” King said. “We are going to be back in the cafeterias. We are planning normal attendance for extracurricular activities.
“Again, all of this depends on our community transmission rates and how those rates continue once we are open. If we are having spikes within the community, we may have to revisit those plans,” he emphasized.
There’s been a lot of questions around the vaccines and whether schools would track which students had been vaccinated.
In Putnam County schools, the COVID vaccine will not be tracked, although King recommends discussing the vaccine with your medical provider.
“That’s a very personal family decision,” said King. “Personally, I think that vaccines are a good tool that’s in our toolbox, and I wish more people would take advantage of that. I think that’s the best way to protect our community and our schools, but also realize that’s a very personal decision, so they have to make the one that suits them and their family.”
It is possible that in the future if COVID transmission rates continue to rise, school policies could change.
“We are going to monitor it,” King added. “The health and safety is a primary concern of ours, so we want to make sure that we do our part to protect each other, protect ourselves, practice good hygiene skills, the things we know.
“If we start seeing that isn’t going to remain possible, then the School Board will make a decision to change and implement some of the protocols we had in place. But right now, we are hoping to stay as normal as possible.”