CULLMAN COUNTY, Ala. — Cullman County Schools is facing a record number of COVID-related absences as students return to the classroom without a mask requirement.
Approximately 9,600 students are enrolled at the district and there is nearly 1,200 full-time staff members. As of August 17, there are 373 people in the district that either have COVID-19 or are quarantining due to close contact.
"Our COVID-related absences were almost 400, which is higher than any one day last school year," said Cullman County Schools Superintendent Shane Barnette.
Barnette emphasized that he wants masking decisions to be left up to parents. He says kids wearing masks will not be sent home out of fear of close contact.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines close contact as when someone has been within 6-feet of a person with COVID for a total of 15 minutes or more within 2 days of prior to illness onset, regardless of whether a mask was worn.
"If your child's identified as a close contact, and they are not masked, the Alabama Department of Public Health expects them to stay at home," said Barnette.
When it comes to keeping a child at home, schools are following the Alabama Department of Public Health's lead by requiring people who test positive for COVID or have had a close contact to quarantine for 10 days.
Meanwhile, Morgan County Schools, which similarly does not require masks, is facing a much lower percentage of positive COVID cases, according to Superintendent Jeremy Childers.
"We're less than 3% of students [testing positive], less than 2% on staff [testing positive]," said Childers. "If you would like to be masked during the day, you're more than welcome to. If you don't want to you don't have to," Childers.