During their regular meeting on Nov. 23, the Mid-Prairie school board voted to require face masks for all employees when with students, with limited reasonable exceptions. This means that staff can no longer wear face coverings such as shields or gaiters.
The new policy applies to all administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, transportation and nutrition staff.
The amendment to the face covering policy came after the board learned that, of the 91 students absent due to quarantine, 40-50 of those students (or about 50%) needed to quarantine because of a staff member wearing a shield or gaiter instead of a face mask.
“It is my priority to keep students in school for as long as possible,” superintendent Mark Schnieder said. “Right now, we have a situation where adults with good intentions, because they wear face shields, are causing quarantine to large groups of students. If our priority is to keep kids in school, that runs contrary to what we’re trying to do.”
Iowa Department of Public Health guidelines say that as long as all parties are wearing a face mask, even if one person tests positive for COVID-19, the others won’t have to quarantine as long as masks were worn correctly and consistently. However, this does not apply to face shields and gaiters – if someone wearing a non-approved face covering tests positive for COVID-19, everyone who’s had close contact with them needs to quarantine.
“If we’re going to continue to have kids quarantine, their education is suffering. Don’t get me wrong—[my daughter] had to quarantine and the teachers did awesome. They did the best they could,” said board member Gabrielle Frederick. “But for [my daughter], nothing is better than being in person in class. I acknowledge that masks do make learning more difficult for many kids, but at this point, when [not wearing masks] is making kids miss two weeks of school, that worries me.”
Jeremy Pickard presented the motion to require all staff to wear face masks but stressed that there had to be limited reasonable exceptions—some teachers, at some times, can still benefit from wearing a face shield to better teach their students.
The motion passed 6-1 with Mary Allred dissenting.
Board member Marianne Schlabach then presented a motion to amend the face covering policy to require all students to wear masks with limited reasonable exceptions and adjustments.
“Why wouldn’t it apply for the kids?” she asked. “I think about the child that says, ‘I did everything right. I wore my mask. This person over here is wearing a face shield and if she or he tests positive, I’m going to have to quarantine.’ Why wouldn’t we include the children? If the staff is doing everything necessary to help the kids stay in school… why wouldn’t we protect the kids, as well?”
Other board members responded to say that some students need to wear a shield or gaiter in order to properly learn and that the absence data doesn’t show large amounts of students needing to quarantine due to a student wearing a shield or gaiter.
Schlabach’s motion failed 5-2 with Jeremy Pickard, Jodi Meader, Mary Allred, Jeremy Gugel and Denise Chittick dissenting.