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Valley mom frustrated by school district’s mask mandate removal

(Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — The J.O. Combs Unified School District no longer requires face masks now that the statewide mask mandate for schools has been lifted, and that has a parent feeling concerned.

Stephanie Carey, whose son is a first-grader at Ellsworth Elementary School, said she was “extremely frustrated and appalled” when she learned face masks are now recommended but not required by the district.

She’s worried her son is at higher risk of getting COVID-19 at school and possibly infecting his sister, who attends a school with children who are immunocompromised.

The district, which serves San Tan Valley and a small part of eastern Queen Creek in Pinal County, made the decision after Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday rescinded part of an executive order that required face masks to be worn in K-12 public schools.

“It’s very disheartening and it’s very concerning as a parent that our kids’ safety isn’t the number one concern of the governor or of the school district,” Carey told KTAR News 92.3 FM. “That is really frustrating as a parent.”

The J.O. Combs Unified School District is one of the only school districts that has gotten rid of its face mask requirement. Others are keeping the mask rules and some are holding special governing board meetings to decide if they’ll keep theirs or not.

In a message to parents, Superintendent Dr. Gregory Wyman said the J.O. Combs Unified School District planned to “continue to prioritize the safety and well being of our community and will encourage the practice of known mitigation strategies such as social distancing, hand washing and temperature checks.”

But for Carey, those mitigation strategies are not enough.

She feels it’s too early to lift mask mandates for schools, especially because young children still can’t get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“There’s no vaccine for small children, so why aren’t we doing the most that we can to protect the tiny people that entrust us to care for them and keep them safe?” she said.

Carey added she didn’t feel Ducey was the right person to decide if schools should continue to require masks.

“I just don’t think that somebody who doesn’t spend any time in the classroom or in the school should be making decisions that directly affect the people attending those classes, teaching those classes,” she said.

The governor said in a statement his decision to rescind the state’s mask mandate is in alignment with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, the CDC’s latest guidance states that “regardless of the level of community transmission, it is critical that schools use and layer prevention strategies.” Those strategies include the “universal and correct use of masks.”

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