SHELBY COUNTY — The topic of vaccine mandates in schools continues to be a topic of discussion across the state, while some parents remain concerned about the possible long-term effects of masks in the classroom.
County commissioners in Shelby County reinstated a mask mandate at schools and county buildings in September. The three commissioners voted 2-1, with the sole dissenting vote coming from Don Parker, who said he wasn't comfortable requiring people to wear masks.
WRTV spoke with a mother who said she does not think the burden to curb COVID-19 cases should be on children.
“Why are we putting our kids through this?” Brooke Lockett asked.
Lockett has a three-year-old that attends preschool at Triton Central Elementary. She said she is not in favor of the re-instated mask mandate at all Shelby County Schools.
"As a mom of a preschooler that doesn't really know how to wipe her nose so great yet, I have concerns about the sanitary nature of that, on top of just being asked to wear masks arbitrarily when they're not really tracking data to link them, wearing masks, to making any real change in the community," Lockett said.
The mandate comes after a recommendation from the Shelby County Board of Health. Children under 12 cannot yet get vaccinated against COVID-19, and health director Robert Lewis said the department believes masks will help and "it's been showing it's working." He added they are trying to help, not punish, children.
Lockett disagreed saying, "Let's not have the kids be the image-bearer for this."
Lockett said if they are going to put a mandate in place, the mandate should cover every person in Shelby County.
“Do I think that masks are the answers to all of our problems?" Lockett said. "Probably not, but if we're going to treat one group of people one way, why aren't we treating the rest of the county the same, and if it is that we're in such dire straits and it really is a tremendous problem, then why aren't we asking everyone in the community to do their part if that's what we did in the past?”
Along with her dislike for the mask mandate, Lockett said she feels as though she and other community members are being silenced. She requested to be put on the commissioners' agenda three times and has been denied each time.
"We're trying to voice our opinion, but we're being silenced," she said. "We're trying to go through the right processes and asked to be on agendas and asked to voice our opinions, and even some of the school boards have gone as far to appeal the decision, but then were denied the appeal or denied the opportunity to speak on the matter. So, I think that this has become a thing they're having a hard time really listening to their constituents."
Ultimately, Lockett said she wants to see the mask mandate lifted.
"We don't know how this affects their learning, so if we don't have definitive data that says that this is working, then why are we putting our kids through it?" Lockett said.
WRTV reached out to all three Shelby County commissioners last week and has not received a response.
The mask mandate was not on the agenda for their meeting on Monday.
WRTV also contacted to all three superintendents in the county.
In an email, the superintendent from the North West Consolidated School District said, “NWCSD will continue to adhere to lawfully issued orders from State and/or Local authorities just as it has throughout the pandemic.”
Southwestern Consolidated School District Superintendent Curt Chase said, "We are able to effectively social distance at Southwestern for the majority of our students' day and have put precautions in to mitigate and do our part.
"At this time, with a 0.498% positive test rate which hasn't changed either way since the mask mandate was put into place, we feel the data does not suggest that putting a mask on students needs to be one of those precautions in our corporation. We feel it should be a parental choice with the data we have."
We also reached out to Major Hospital in Shelby County, which recommended the mask mandate in county schools. They said they are following guidance from the American Academy Of Pediatrics.
In an email, the hospital's CEO said, "Our local positivity rate continues to run above 10%. Our pediatric percent of patients with Covid is greater than 14% of the overall number of covid patients. MHP is at maximum capacity within our institution.
"We are seeing more than 20 new patients a day with covid. We will continue to communicate with our local Board of Health and Government officials and we will continue to follow the recommended medical guidelines based on our local situation."