Masks not a must for schools, but changes could be coming

Staff Report

Masks mandates are not in place in Iberville Parish schools, but officials are closely monitoring the numbers as COVID-19 cases continue a sharp rise locally and across the nation.

The guidance released Monday by the Iberville Parish School Board comes just short of a mandate and instead “strongly encourages” students to wear masks.

Iberville Parish School Superintendent Dr. Arthur Joffrion

“We’re watching the situation very closely,” Iberville Parish School Superintendent Dr. Arthur Joffrion said Sunday. “The guidance could change any time.”

The school system’s current protocol follows suit with directives from the Louisiana Department of Education. Nearly all schools outside of the Greater New Orleans area have “encouraged” masks but have not yet implemented a mandate.

Any changes would come based on recommendations from Gov. John Bel Edwards, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Louisiana Department of Health, and the state Department of Education.

The Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge in a letter last Friday said it was reviewing possible changes to its protocol, which follows suit with the guidance from the state Department of Education.

The Iberville Parish School Board also will keep a close watch on the case totals in Iberville Parish, which have been on a rise in the last month since the Delta Variant triggered a spike across most of the nation.

Edwards said Friday he was “strongly considering” a mask mandate based on the strain hospital caregivers have encountered as the hospitalization totals have returned to figures not seen since the start of the pandemic in spring 2020.

Some school officials in leadership roles already have shifted their protocol.

“We were encouraged with several leadership team meetings we had over the past few weeks, and several employees wearing masks even though not yet mandated,” Joffrion said. “We’re strongly encouraging unvaccinated personnel and students to wear masks, for certain, but at this point we’re also encouraging that everyone wears masks.”

While a mask mandate is not yet in place for students and teachers, an executive order from President Joe Biden requires all students on school buses to wear masks.

Joffrion admits it’s frustrating for both him and school personnel to begin the 2021-22 session with masks after most orders ended by the close of the last school year.

“We felt we were finished with all the mandates,” he said.

Classes begin Aug. 11 for students in the Iberville Parish School District. School opens Aug. 8 for students at St. John School.