Sabine Parish School Board approves COVID wellness guidelines over objections from anti-mask parents

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SABINE PARISH, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The Sabine Parish School Board voted Thursday night in favor of wellness guidelines that include requiring all students, staff, and visitors aged five and up to wear masks while indoors.

That decision comes as coronavirus cases continue to surge across the state and in Sabine Parish, where 50 new cases were reported on Thursday alone and where Superintendent Dr. Sara Ebarb says 547 students and staff are currently out of school and in quarantine.

The school board originally met to approve the wellness guidelines at a regular meeting on August 9, the day before classes were set to begin. But so many parents showed up wanting to address the board and object to the masking guidelines that not everyone had a chance to speak.

At the time, Ebarb said the district intended to follow the law when it comes to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ statewide mask order. Still, because room was limited at the regular school board meeting due to COVID precautions, the board agreed to hold a special meeting to allow more parents to have their say.

“It is not just about a mask and it’s not just about people being selfish because they want what’s best for their children,” Unmask our Kids Sabine Parish organizer Kresha Matkin said during Thursday’s meeting. “It’s about the government forgetting their role and forgetting they work for the people.”

Some of those who spoke out against the district’s proposed mask rules at Thursday’s meeting cited health concerns, others questioned their effectiveness, and several complained that the rules interfere with their parental and constitutional rights.

“I think that the fact we can play basketball, I love basketball, but the fact that they can guard each other and be in each other’s faces but we make our kindergarteners take a nap in a mask is sad,” said Brandi Taylor, who is a mother of four.

After an hour of deliberations and comments from the community and local leaders, the board ultimately voted in favor of the district’s wellness guidelines, including the mask requirements. Dale Skinner was the only board member to oppose.

“I really understand how parents feel,” Ebarb said. “It’s not fun to wear a mask, and I even get what they are saying about being concerned about the effectiveness. I get all of that, I really do. But I do know that the governor did come down with an order that says we have to wear a mask and we are a public entity so that had to be a part of our plan.”

“I am sad to say that the way it ended,” Matkin said of the vote. “The people still wanted to talk and ask questions and they shut us down. I didn’t like the way that ended, which is why I approached the board afterward. I had questions I wanted to be answered.”

Matkin says she and other parents are now considering removing their children from the school system as a result.

“I can’t continue to compromise his health. As his mother, I have to make that decision for him.”

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