A large group of more than 100 Enterprise City Schools parents and Enterprise residents attended the July 27 school board meeting to address their concerns over the school’s mask mandate for the upcoming school year.

An internal letter addressed to faculty and staff was leaked onto social media last week, which led to the outrage from a number of parents throughout the platform. As a result, 10 members of the audience were allowed to speak to the board along with three local physicians that tried to help parents better understand the reasoning for the mask mandate. Parents brought signs to protest the mask mandate and also boasted a petition with 1,200 signatures.

Dr. Beverly Jordan, Dr. Danny Whitaker and Dr. Nola Jean Ernest all spoke during the meeting. Jordan is a physician that specializes in family medicine and sports medicine based in Enterprise. Whitaker is a pediatrician, also based in Enterprise, and is a former ECS school board member. Ernest is a physician that specializes in pediatrics and internal medicine. All three of the physicians also have children that attend Enterprise City Schools.

Enterprise parent Les Hogan appealed to the board members by pointing to the fact that a number of them are business owners who give their clients choices and choices should be allowed for ECS parents.

“I am here to encourage the determination of choice for our families and students and simply offer some common sense illustrations of how ineffective masks are,” Hogan told the board. “Each of you in your professional careers provide an opportunity for choice to your consumers. When it comes to our school system it seems we’re being dictated to and mandated with little to no scientific evidence to prove a mask’s effectiveness.

“Less than 10 percent of average cases in Alabama are between the ages of five and 17. The mortality rate for those under 17 is practically zero. Children are not super spreaders and spread across school age children is rare.”

In her remarks, Jordan responded to the claim about the case rate in children under the age of 18.

“Mr. Hogan is correct that the average of the last year is 10 percent but our current average is actually more like 20 percent,” Jordan stated. “We’re seeing a shift in the age rage of the (COVID-19) patients we are seeing. Previously, only 2 percent of the cases we were seeing were children under the age of 18. Right now that is up to 20 percent.”

Hogan also stated that Jordan herself doesn’t follow CDC or ADPH guidelines when treating athletes.

“Dr. Jordan runs onto the football field on Friday nights to attend to a football player that has been unmasked for an entire game and has been spit on, sweat on and maybe even bled on,” Hogan claimed. “She’s going to reach down and attend to that kid without the proper ADPH or CDC approved equipment.”

Jordan explicitly refuted this claim.

“Something that was said earlier was that I do not follow CDC and ADPH guidelines when treating our athletes,” she continued. “I would like to correct that misinformation. I certainly do follow the guidance when treating all of our athletes.

“In the 25 years I have practiced sports medicine I distinctly remember the one time I violated those guidelines when I put my ungloved hand on the bloody arm of a family member who was an athlete. That family member begged me not to stop and get gloves and since he knew his risk and I knew mine we chose to accept that risk ourselves.”

Hogan went on to point to perceived hypocrisies about doing the mask mandate now.

“When it comes to our school system it seems we’re being dictated to and mandated with little to no scientific evidence to prove a mask’s effectiveness,” Hogan said. “Where does the insanity end? Are we going to sit here and become conformists or will we be leaders? What happened in the last three days?

“I’ve looked at each of your Facebook pages, we’ve been to Vacation Bible School, gone on vacation with friends. Everyone of you went without masks. What has changed in three days? I sat in freshman orientation last week with 500 to 1,000 people and no one had a mask on unless they wanted to. They weren’t condemned for wearing a mask and they weren’t condemned for not wearing a mask. They were told about leadership and being accountable. I see conformity here instead of leadership. There should never be a mandate but a choice.”

Enterprise City Schools Superintendent Dr. Zel Thomas said what changed is the case numbers in the area.

“In June we weren’t thinking about this,” Thomas said. “Two weeks ago it started to get on my radar and I hoped things would change, and they have but for the worst. We’re not trying to take anyone’s rights away, we’re trying to keep your baby’s in school, so we can do our jobs.”

Jordan also hit on the recent spike in cases in the area, which local health officials have also been hitting on.

“I want to state up front that three weeks ago this was not a discussion because our case rates were significantly lower,” Jordan said. “Right now our case rates are exactly the same as they were during the peak in December and maintained through February.

“That is why we are having this recommendation from our medical community, because our case rates are significantly different they were in the middle of the summer. That is because the Delta variant is much more contagious than the original variant.”

A number of parents pointed to studies that allege prolonged mask wearing can lead to mental and physical health issues.

“The choice of what’s best for my child belongs to me and mask wearing brings its own health risks,” Steve Salmon said to the board. “There’s a byproduct of prolonged mask wearing that isn’t being acknowledged. If your mandate is based on keeping my child safe today what do you plan to do when my child gets sick tomorrow?

“Why are you ignoring the undeniable truth being presented that shows what has happened to kids and adults alike that have worn a mask for prolonged periods.”

Jordan agreed that there was conflicting data on mask wearing but that were as many studies backing mask wearing as there are those that push back on it.

“There is a lot of conflicting data out there but for every study you can find that says that masking doesn’t work you can find an equal – if not superiorly – done study that shows that it does. Common sense also shows us that it does.”

Whitaker pointed to a decrease in other respiratory viruses that also back up the claim that masks help the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

“Normally we see other viruses like other kinds of coronavirus, rhino virus, the flu, strep throat in the fall,” Whittaker said. “All fall and winter long we didn’t see nearly the normal amount of those illnesses. Adults were masking and adults are the ones that spread those infections to their children.

“We started to see respiratory syncsytial virus (RSV) – that is a winter virus that we see November through January – when the mask mandated ended. So, we started seeing it in April, May and June because adults stopped wearing masks.”

Amber Salmon, a mother of five ECS students – called the decision to require Pre-K and kindergarten students to wear masks “cruel.” Last year Pre-K and kindergarten students were not required to wear masks but this year ADPH and CDC guidelines recommend they do so.

“This year, I have two pre-schoolers that I was so excited got into the WeeCats program,” Amber Salmon said. “They will be required to wear masks. My two four year olds will be required to wear a mask all day in preschool in addition to the kindergartener who is trying to learn how to read.

“I see the hypocrisy in this and I don’t know how we can just throw four and five year olds under the bus with a mask mandate after a successful school year with no masks during its peak. I don’t see the point why EEEC did not force masks on kids (last year) yet we see the need to do it now. We didn’t have tons of kids missing school or coming home (last year). If your kids are sick then keep them home, why do you have an obsession with masking children and forcing them to social distance? It’s not natural and in fact it is very cruel.”

Amber Salmon asked the board if they have bothered questioning how students feel about this decision.

“Have you ever actually sat down with these kids at church or ballgames or your own homes and asked them how this feels,” she asked. “I did just that over the dinner table with five kids ages four to 10. This is what they told me: anxiety, shortness of breath especially when reading aloud or giving a presentation, difficulty concentrating, headaches and loneliness.

“It’s no wonder that kids are struggling with speech and phonics and relationships and anxiety and other learning impairments.”

Amber Salmon said that if the board or superintendent is unwilling to remove the mask mandate full stop than she asked that they reconsider the mandate on younger students.

“If nothing comes of this meeting at all – and I hope something does – at least reconsider the policy to exclude kindergarteners and preschoolers from the mask mandate,” she said as she began to get emotional. “It’s cruel. As a parent, I’m going to continue to advocate for my kids. If I have to come every two weeks it doesn’t matter. My elementary school children do not need to be forced to wear masks. It should be a recommendation. It’s time that we regain our medical freedoms.

“No PhD or MD or any other credential earned at a university can discredit my role as a mom. As a mother, I will stand here and advocate for all five of my children that masks should be recommended, not mandated.”

One parent cited a study that showed that masks worn by students had a number of pathogens on them. Ernest said that any child that has their nose swabbed will also have those same pathogens in their nose.

“The bacteria found on masks, if I swab any child’s nose they have the same bacterial pathogens all the time that are known to cause pneumonia, meningitis and other serious illness,” she said. “Those are normal respiratory bacteria that – in some cases – can cause serious illness. Any mask that tracks your spit will have those pathogens in it, that is normal and has not shown an increase rates of pneumonia or meningitis or those other illnesses.”

Enterprise parent Terri Waythomas quoted a German neurologist, Margareta Gries-Brisson, who claimed that mask wearing was dangerous to a child’s health.

“Rebreathing of exhaled air will without a doubt create oxygen deficiency and flooding of carbon dioxide,” the quote read. “We know that the human brain is very sensitive to oxygen deprivation. The acute warning systems are headaches, drowsiness, issues with concentration and slowing down reaction time. To deprive a child or adolescent’s brain of oxygen or to restrict it in anyway is not only dangerous to their health but it is absolutely criminal.”

A number of doctors and scientists have pushed back on the claims made by the German neurologist. Ernest, who also holds a PhD in neurology, pushed back on it, herself.

“I can assure you that masks do not affect the brain development of a child, the data does not show that right now,” Ernest said. “Doctors have worn masks all day long for many, many years. It does not decrease your oxygen levels or increase your blood carbon dioxide levels but COVID does.”

At times, the board meeting devolved into parent’s complaints about the way the board is chosen, as well.

“This is government that is appointed by the government,” Enterprise resident Tanner Medley said. “Do you realize how insane that is? Accountability fades from one place to the other. What I will not stand for is unelected bureaucrats coming in here and making decisions for my kid’s health.”

Medley – who does not have children in the ECS system – even suggested the school system could be sued over the mask mandate.

“You say you’re here to make the best decision for our children but that is not your job,” Medley said. “Your job is to provide our children with an education. Since you want to be a monolithic decision making body for our children’s health, well guess what? You’re the monolithic recipient of all the legal liability incurred with all of that.

“If you want to make those decisions then you are liable for those decisions and you will be litigated by all these people when their children are affected by your mandate. If you want to force masks on kids, you are legally liable for the implications. If you are not liable for the decisions you make, then you should not have the authority to make those decisions.”

Enterprise parent Don Raby, who recently moved to Enterprise, called the fact that school board members are unelected “appalling.”

“I’m a recent transplant to the State of Alabama and City of Enterprise,” Raby continued. “For 65 years I lived in the State of Michigan and we fled that state this past year because we are raising a six-year-old daughter. We fled that state because of the illogical, unethical tyranny of the government.

“I am appalled that none of you are elected or truly representative of the people in this room. I thought we lived in a Republic, I thought we lived in a Democracy where our elected representatives serve us. I am appalled.”

CDC and ADPH guidelines this year state that students that are wearing masks that come in close contact with someone that tests positive will not be forced to quarantine. Thomas and the doctors speaking attempted to describe this fact as being one of the bigger reasons that the mask mandate is being instilled.

“I made this recommendation for the benefit of the children we serve and take care of,” Thomas explained. “It is our responsibility to keep your children safe. If you ask any school principal, our primary objective is to keep them safe. I did not make this decision haphazardly, it’s not a political thing.

“The primary reason we were following the CDC recommendations is that it was to keep our kids in school. We sent home 1,529 students for 14 days that were just close contact.”

All of the doctors reiterated that point.

“I’m not an expert on education or on human rights and I definitely am not a politician but studies show that in-school learning is optimal for a child’s social, mental and physical health,” Ernest said. “We want to keep kids in school at all costs. Right now, the science says the greatest number of students for the greatest duration of time will be able to stay in school if they are masked.”

Whitaker said that parent’s might be mad about a mask mandate, but would be even angrier if their kids keep getting sent home for close contact with a COVID-19 case.

“This is the best option we have right now to keep children in the seats and educated without sending them home left and right,” Whitaker said. You’ll be complaining about that, I promise you, if they keep getting sent home.”

Jordan said that she agreed even if she knew it wasn’t popular amongst some.

“I recognize that this is not popular and that this is not what everyone wants to hear but unfortunately, I also recognize that I believe that science has proven that this is the safest way to keep our children in school,” Jordan emphasized.

Throughout the meeting, ECS parents were allowed to speak uninterrupted – and sometimes over the given time limit – but the doctors and Thomas were not afforded that same courtesy at times. A number of parents got up and left immediately after the physicians began their presentation. A number of parents also shouted and heckled the physicians during the presentation and attempted to argue with Thomas during his closing comments.

“Let me say first, thank you all for showing up and voicing your concerns but please know the decision to mandate masks was not one made lightly,” Thomas said. “I’m a little disappointed that the letter you saw was for our employees, so we could let them know first and we would share the information with the public after that.

“I have no problem with anyone being an advocate for your child. I’ve said that before and I’ve said that my entire 28 years in education. Anyone can tell you that if you have an issue you can bring it to me and I don’t feel like this is the Enterprise that I’ve grown to know and love since 2005. No one came to my office, no one reached out to me. Social media can be a good thing but it can also be very toxic. The way this was all handled, I would have been happy to entertain anyone that wanted to come to my office and talk to me, is disappointing.”

Thomas said that the mask mandate would be reevaluated throughout the year and that he hopes COVID-19 cases begin to decrease again so that the school system can lift it.

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