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Ballard County Schools Superintendent: COVID-Related Student Death Shapes Perspective On Mask Mandate

Ballard County Memorial High School Sign.jpg
Liam Niemeyer
Ballard Memorial High School last year.

The superintendent of Ballard County Schools said the coronavirus-related death of a high school student in the district last year has shaped his perspective on the necessity of the recent school mask mandate.

Ballard County Schools is following the Kentucky governor’s mask mandate for all school facilities, amid rising cases due to the spread of the Delta COVID-19 variant and ahead of a school board meeting Monday evening.

Some school districts in far western Kentucky have seen pushback against the statewide mask mandate by some parents at school board meetings. Marshall County Schools last week announced a plan to legally sidestep the governor’s executive order that created the mandate, but instead resigned to complying with the mandate.

Ballard County Schools Superintendent Casey Allen said considering his district brings together more than 1,000 people to school facilities each day, it’s hard not to consider every measure possible to prevent COVID-19 spread.

“It would be really hard for me to say that any measures of safety that we can take, we shouldn’t consider them,” Allen said. “If masks give us some level of protection, it’s really hard for me to say that we probably shouldn’t be in masks right now.”

As of Friday, the COVID-19 incidence rate in Ballard County was classified as “high” by the Kentucky Department for Public Health, with 34.4 average daily cases per 100,000 people. It’s the most severe classification of COVID-19 community transmission by state public health officials, with the vast majority of other counties also having that classification.

Furthermore, COVID-19 played a role in the death of Alexa Rose Veit, a 15-year-old Ballard Memorial High School student who had significant preexisting conditions last November.

COVID-19 Current Incidence Rate in Kentucky 08-13-2021.png
Kentucky Department for Public Health
A graphic documenting the COVID-19 incidence rate by county in Kentucky as of August 13, 2021.

Allen said some parents may be more concerned about COVID-19 now than they were prior to Veit’s death.

“Young people are more resilient than we are a lot of times,” Allen said. “They have so much on their minds, and they’re trying to balance all that. My daughter was in class with this student, so I can tell you personally as a parent, and as a parent of a child with special needs, it certainly has changed my perspective, and I think it’s probably changed a lot of perspectives of parents.”

There have also been recent parent protests against the mask mandate in Elizabethtown, Louisville, Warren County, Belfry and Crestwood.

At Monday’s board meeting, Allen said he anticipates some parents may voice concerns regarding the governor’s mask mandate.

“I think people are starting to understand that the mask mandate is not a device created by us,” Allen said. “What it is, is an enforceable law that we really don’t have any choice but to follow. I think initially, when we saw lots of the pushback at board meetings, people felt like, if they came and they voiced their concerns and they came in big numbers, that they could sway the board of education to not follow the executive order.”

But Allen said students have been compliant with the mask mandate regardless of personal or parental views on the matter.

“Kids have been so supportive and respectful of our school staff during this time,” Allen said. “If kids in our community have really strong thoughts of opposition about the mask mandate, they’re not taking it out on the staff.”

Dustin Wilcox is a television production student at Murray State University. He graduated from Hopkinsville High School in 2019.
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