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State’s mask mandate expires

Now that the state mask ordinance has expired, local governments, school systems and business are regrouping under Gov. Kay Ivey’s new, more lax Safer at Home order.

When the state mask ordinance took effect in August, school systems around the state had one tough decision taken off their plate for their re-opening plan.

Six months later, the mask ordinance has reached its end, after several extensions, and local schools are having to make their own decisions concerning mask policies.

“The decision to wear a mask will be a personal one, but it is encouraged,” said Franklin County Schools Superintendent Greg Hamilton.

Hamilton said FCS is sticking with its original reopening plan, which said mask wearing would not be mandatory but strongly encouraged for all students and employees, unless mandated by the state.

“The FCS will continue to monitor the data and guidelines of the Alabama Department of Public Health, Centers for Disease Control and local medical professionals to ensure the health and safety of each student and employee,” Hamilton said.

Russellville City Schools Superintendent Heath Grimes echoed Hamilton’s statement for RCS, saying masks would be encouraged but not be required, except for on the buses.

“We have found a lot of students weren’t wearing their masks outside of school anyway, so it kind of defeated the purpose to have them come in and wear a mask all day if they were going to be in contact with the same people outside of school without a mask anyway,” Grimes said.

Grimes said in July, when school systems began releasing reopening plans, parents were concerned about mask requirements and enforcement.

Since then, the school system has followed the state mandate.

RCS will now continue to follow the state mandate by allowing students the choice to wear a mask – and Grimes said he has not heard any concerns from parents yet.

“I feel like now there is a lot more understanding around mask wearing,” Grimes said. “We still encourage our students to wear them, but we also do not want them to hate being in school because it is one of the few places they are required to wear a mask.”

Both Hamilton and Grimes said their school systems will continue to keep an eye on positive case numbers and make appropriate decisions to keep students and teachers safe.

“We are lucky that right now we have very low numbers,” Grimes said. “We will continue to watch this and make sure we make the best decisions we can to keep everyone safe.”

Franklin County Commission administrator Leah Mansell said the county is following the state mandate for all county-owned buildings.

“We are following the guidelines she has set in place, but we are still encouraging everyone to wear a mask,” Mansell said.

Red Bay city clerk Sarah McKinney said the City of Red Bay is following Ivey’s stance, which is based in “personal responsibility” – allowing people to choose whether wearing a mask is the right choice for them.

“At this point, we are leaving it up to the individual businesses to decide what polices they want to make and the people to decide for themselves,” McKinney said.

Phil Campbell city clerk Virginia Burk said Phil Campbell city employees are still using masks, but she has noticed the number of people wearing them has drastically declined since the mask ordinance was lifted.

“We are still wearing them here and offering them to people when they come in, but not as many people are choosing to wear them now,” Burk said.