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Parents, teachers hope for accountability with new CDC back-to-school guidelines

Published: Jul. 9, 2021 at 10:34 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 9, 2021 at 11:45 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - As teachers and families start to wrap up summer and look ahead to the school year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Friday teachers and students who are fully vaccinated do not have to wear masks inside schools.

The new guidance states masks should be work indoors by all individuals who are not fully vaccinated. The CDC recommends schools maintain at least three feet of physical distance between students in the classrooms.

Shannon Stocker, a mother of two, has walked with her kids through virtual learning for the past year and a half. When schools reopened to in-person learning, Stocker’s kids continued with virtual learning, because her daughter 12-year-old Cassidy is considered high risk. Cassidy is battling brain cancer and undergoing chemotherapy.

“It’s been very painful to have children who are at home, immunocompromised, with cancer on chemo during a pandemic,” Stocker said. “And my hope is that I can send them back to school with everyone else’s kids in a safe environment. And the only way that’s going to happen is if people abide by the rules — both the kids and the teachers.”

She said the CDC’s announcement Friday is not all that shocking. In fact, she was hopeful guidance would come down requiring those who are not vaccinated to continue to wear a mask.

“I have a child who has brain cancer and is in chemo,” she said. “I recognize that I am in a smaller portion of the population but it doesn’t make her any less important or any less valuable. It doesn’t make her life any less valuable than a child who is not immunocompromised.”

Her daughter Cassidy, 12, is fully vaccinated, and her son Tye, 11, is in a COVID vaccine trial.

“He’s in the trial at Cincinnati Children’s where my daughter gets chemo,” Stocker said. “He’s had both his shots. We don’t know, you know, we have a one in three chance he got the placebo but we have a 2 in 3 chance, and he did have some symptoms after but it makes me feel more comfortable. But my children will still go to school masked. Both of them.”

She said both kids are “excited and terrified” to head back to the classroom, as they have not been around many other people over the last 18 months to protect themselves.

Stocker said she is hopeful there will be some sort of accountability with this guidance, especially once school districts decide what their back to school guidance will look like.

“That’s my biggest question,” she said. “How are we going to make sure that unvaccinated kids keep their masks on to protect children like mine?”

Teacher Melissa Otto said wearing a mask during the last school year was not all that big of a deal. She is hopeful there will be a way for teachers to track whether a student needs to wear a mask. She said attendance sheets have a space to make a note of a medical issue or other important information.

“I feel like we could protect those kiddos who need to be wearing a mask by having a simple indicator that says this child needs to be wearing a mask,” Otto said.

She said there are benefits to not wear a mask that aren’t medical related.

“Kids can’t see smiles,” she said. “And they can’t, a lot of communication is non-verbal and when you cover up half the face you lose all of that. So there are valid reasons to want to see the teachers face and the children’s faces.”

WAVE 3 News reached out to several area school districts about how the new CDC guidance will impact their back to school plans.

Oldham County Schools said in a statement: “Our current guidelines for summer school state that those fully vaccinated do not have to wear masks. It is recommended those not fully vaccinated wear masks. We do not have guidance in place for the start of school in August at this time. We will continue to take guidance from KDE and our local health department into consideration.”

Other schools did not respond to our request by Friday evening.

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