Raymond Porter and Martin Johnson

Tallapoosa County Schools superintendent Raymond Porter (left) and school board member Martin Johnson wear masks at a meeting in February.

Tallapoosa County Schools students and staff will once again be required to wear masks indoors Thursday following a decision of the superintendent and board of education Tuesday evening, less than two months after voting to rescind it.

Superintendent Ray Porter said the decision was based on the COVID-19 case numbers in "all surrounding counties and, well, for that matter, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Tennessee line."

The reinstated policy comes after one percent of Tallapoosa County tested positive for COVID-19 in the week since Christmas, with a current average caseload of about 60 new cases per day countywide. While the mask policy does not require a decision of the board, school board members gave an informal vote of approval at their monthly work session Tuesday, rather than waiting six days until the next meeting to enact the policy.

"Our numbers are not tracking favorably at all," Porter told the board.

According to Porter, 144 students and staff were absent Tuesday, 96 of whom due to close-contact exposure during the holiday break and the rest due to showing symptoms or testing positive for COVID-19. When school got out in December, there were 19 COVID-related absences.

Masks are still optional for outdoor, on-campus activities, according to a letter sent to parents Wednesday.

"The Tallapoosa County [Board of Education] will continue to monitor the local COVID data in hopes that the local conditions improve and the mask requirement will become optional in the near future," the letter stated. "It is important for everyone to follow the guidelines and do their part to help us have a safe and successful school year with face-to-face instruction."

But the school system has yet to adopt the CDC's new five-day quarantine guidance, shortened from 10 days last week, which is not yet recommended by Alabama's public health and education departments. However, the policy is under review, Porter told the board Tuesday.

"I'd prefer to go to that than I'd prefer to go to remote [instruction]," he said. "But I do not want to make that decision on my own — I'd prefer this to be a board decision, to be honest."

Alexander City Schools also reinstated its mask mandate Monday, with students returning from winter break Thursday.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated the mask requirement would be effective Wednesday. Masks are not mandatory at Tallapoosa County Schools until Thursday.

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