Board of education votes to keep mask mandate in place


Desmond Kisida

Board member Jeanne Snodgrass calls a three minute recess upon backlash from meeting attendees after the board’s unanimous vote to continue COVID-19 mitigations in schools. Photo by Desmond Kisida.

Zay Yontz and Julia Kim

The Columbia Public Schools (CPS) Board of Education voted 7-0 to keep the current COVID-19 mask mandate in effect Nov. 8. Several parents and community members came to the Aslin Building to voice their opinions on surrounding mask ordinances during the half hour designated to public comments on the subject. John Potter, a parent with students in the CPS district, came in front of the board members to talk about his concerns and beliefs of continued mask requirements for families. 

“I think that we’ve gone long enough with the mandates, and that we’ve heard a lot of different parents’ stories that the masks are impairing learning, causing anxiety or social issues with child development,” Potter said. “We think it’s best for the kid[s] that we have the choice.”

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the Pfizer Vaccine for children ages 5-11. Dr. Brian Yearwood, CPS superintendent, said as vaccine clinics open for younger students in Columbia, there may be a possibility of removing the mask mandate in the near future, but remains firm in his position that continued mitigation efforts are the best way to guarantee the prolonged safety of CPS students this school year.

I will never want to hear that one scholar becomes sick and dies because of COVID[-19] because of [us] failing to protect them,” Yearwood said. “So I do everything I can to protect every scholar in Columbia Public Schools.”

Throughout the meeting, the role of masks regarding the safety of individuals versus the whole community was heavily debated. Pamela Hardin, vice president of Columbia’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter, attended the board meeting to specifically address the importance of the mask mandate for the community’s overall health, which she believes should be the true point of discussion.

“I don’t think it was really getting across that wearing a mask is not necessarily for the individual wearing the mask,” Hardin said. “It is for the protection of other people around [them], and I don’t think that that was stressed enough, that it’s not about just wearing a mask […] for yourself.” 

Hardin also commented on the discussion about masks becoming more political and how parents are ever more critical in the school board’s enforcement of masks.

While there was a split crowd on the continuation of the mask mandate, both sides look forward to a future in which COVID-19 does not play a significant role in their children’s lives according to Hardin.

“I still think that we’ve got a little bit of a way to go because of the mutation of [..] [COVID-19],” Hardin said. “I do hope that we’ll continue to stay on the path to not having a[n] abundance of people that end up being ill because we are going into the winter months. I’m hoping that right now […]  masks will help to keep that under control in schools.”

Even in the face of disagreement with his constituents, Dr Yearwood strives to continue the mask mandate for the utmost physical safety of CPS students. 

“People may not necessarily agree with everything that I do,” Dr. Yearood said. “But my heart and my head [are] in the right place when I say I must protect our scholars.”

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