Parents speak out on masks and virtual learning at DeSoto County School board meeting

HERNANDO, Miss. — The gloves were off as parents debated keeping masks on and optional at the DeSoto County Schools board meeting Thursday evening.

Two schools in the district are currently fully virtual because dozens of students and teachers are sick with the coronavirus.

Parents were not shy about voicing their opinions. Some parents who work as medical professionals pushed the district to implement mask mandates while others argued it’s up to each individual parent to decide if their children should wear a mask or not.

“There’s a better chance of a kid being struck by lightning than dying from the disease,” one parent told the board.

Some supported optional masking in the classroom, which is what the school district follows now.

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“I want my child to be raised with the same liberties and freedoms that I had,” another said.

Others pushed for universal masking, better contact tracing, and frequent testing.

Lewisburg Middle School and Southaven Middle School are currently virtual, while Hernando High School is on a hybrid schedule as the district struggles to contain the spread of COVID-19.

“As a physician and scientist, I am extremely frustrated, but now as a mother, I’m even more frustrated,” said Jessica Gartrell, a pediatrician at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital whose two children are currently sick with COVID-19.

“It’s heartbreaking that someone would think this is political,” she said.

Dr. Gartrell isn’t the only one who is frustrated. She joined forces with Matt Rees, a parent and another doctor at St. Jude.

Both of them tried contacting board members about the importance of universal masking but said they had no luck.

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“Healthcare workers are tired and it’s been a challenging time to have expertise disregarded when there are really simple and effective ways to make things better,” Rees said.

After the board meeting, FOX13 pressed Superintendent Cory Uselton for his stance on masking.

“Would you have time just for a few seconds to talk to us? I think we’d be interested in hearing your thoughts,” FOX13′s Jacque Masse said.

“Our board president has us going to executive session,” the superintendent said.

FOX13 asked if Superintendent Uselton would be available later in the evening. We still have not heard from him.

The parents pushing for masks also wanted to find out where the school board is getting their medical advice from and who makes safety protocols decisions.

For now, masks remain optional.