Sabine Parish school leaders, community members again discuss Louisiana’s mask mandate
Superintendent confirms more than 400 students and staffers out because of quarantines
SABINE PARISH, La. (KSLA) — As dozens of positive coronavirus cases are confirmed within Sabine Parish schools, School District leaders met to hear out frustrated community members over Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ mask mandate.
The special School Board meeting was held Thursday, Aug. 26 in Many High School’s gym. Community members wanting to speak were asked to fill out a card upon entry.
Set to expire on Sept. 1, Edwards told KSLA News 12 during an interview at LSU Health Shreveport earlier this week that he anticipates the mask mandate will be extended due to the current COVID-19 climate in Louisiana.
“We just simply haven’t made enough progress,” he said. “We’ve got a ways to go.”
According to the Louisiana Department of Health, 36 positive COVID-19 cases were reported among Sabine Parish public school students Aug. 12-22. The School District has been in session for 16 days.
More than 547 students and staff members — about 10% of the School District — are quarantined and out of school, Sabine schools Superintendent Dr. Sara Ebarb said.
“Health and safety of our students has to be number one. This particular variant that’s going around now ... we’re seeing more kids with positives.”
Sabine Parish parents and community members, irate over the governor’s mask mandate, originally tried to meet with school leaders the day before classes started Aug. 9. However, due to capacity limits and the sheer number of people present, the meeting was postponed.
“All of these parents here are just concerned about their kids. They want what’s best and they don’t want to co-parent with the government,” said Kresha Matkin, a former nurse and leader of Unmask Our Kids Sabine Parish. “They’re trying to make it about just masks or shields. ... It’s about government overreach.”
According to LDH, Sabine also has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Region 7, which covers northwest Louisiana. Only 26% of people in the parish are fully vaccinated; and one portion of Sabine has an 11% vaccination rate.
Ebarb told KSLA News 12 that she is concerned about the prospect of closing schools, but it is a move that is on the table if the situation in the parish deteriorates.
“I want parents to know that’s not something I want to do. I certainly don’t think it’s in the best interest of academics,” Ebarb explained over Zoom. “We’re watching the numbers every day in our schools. And if we get into a situation where we feel like we have to do that, then we’ll do it — be virtual for a couple of weeks.”
Matkin argues that faith, not lawmakers, should be the deciding factor on choices she makes for her family.
“The ultimate goal is for parents to have the right to decide, the right to maintain choices for their children. We have God-given rights as parents; they aren’t government-given.”
Several parents took to the podium during Thursday’s special meeting, many opposing the governor’s mask mandate.
“The parents of Sabine Parish and Louisiana have had enough,” Matkin said. “We have to stand up for our children. And if this means we have to pull them out of public education until federal funding dwindles down to nothing, that is what we will do.”
One parent questioned what she considers to be a double standard.
“The fact that we can play basketball, and I am a Florien Black Cat so I love basketball, the fact they can guard each other and be in each other’s faces while our kindergarteners have to wear a mask while they take a nap is sad,” Brandi Taylor said.
In the end, the School Board voted in favor of the district’s wellness guidelines for the school year.
“I really understand how parents feel,” Ebarb said. “It’s not fun to wear a mask, but the governor did come down with an order to wear a mask. We are a public entity so it had to be a part of our plan.”
As the meeting concluded, several parents said they were planning on withdrawing their children from the district.
“I don’t want to lose any of them and I hate for them to do that, but they have a right to make educational decisions for their children for sure,” said Ebarb.
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