Mid-Prairie extends mask mandate, with updates

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The Mid-Prairie School Board voted on Oct. 12 to maintain its face covering mandate but updated the mandate with more specific requirements.

All students, teachers and staff must wear a face covering (this includes a cloth mask, face shield or gaiter) while in school buildings and during school transportation, but exceptions can be made when six-foot social distancing can be maintained; for band; physical education; classes where there is a safety concern, such as welding; students with health issues who obtain a doctor’s note; and students with disabilities as determined by their IEP team. All students must get a mask break at a minimum of every two hours.

When an exception to mask wearing occurs because of six-feet social distancing, this should be determined by the administration and teachers, not by the students themselves. It was also noted that some buildings have more room available for social distancing, so students at some levels will not fall under this exception as consistently as others.

The motion was presented by Jeremy Pickard and passed 4-2, with Gabrielle Frederick and Mary Allred casting the dissenting votes.

Pickard said he did not address athletic spectators in his motion because a spectator mask mandate is not easily enforceable.

Currently, the River Valley conference requires masks for all indoor spectators, but without enforcement a large number of attendees, an estimated 30-50%, are not complying.

“We hold kids, who are ages 4-18, accountable for wearing masks, but we’re not going to hold adults accountable, parents who are refusing for wear face coverings,” said board member Gabrielle Frederick. “I just feel like that should be the opposite way around… I don’t want it to be out there that at indoor sports, we don’t care. Because I personally do.”

Board member Jeremy Gugel said that, while Mid-Prairie could put a mask mandate for athletic spectators into effect, without a plan to enforce it, it would not be effective.

“I don’t think we’re prepared for escalation. I don’t think we’re prepared to escort people out,” Gugel said. “I’m not opposed to putting this on paper, but I don’t think we’re prepared for a mask mandate. I don’t think we’re prepared for what it’s going to do here, I don’t think we’re prepared for what it’s going to do to the whole atmosphere. I don’t think we’re prepared for what’s going to happen over the next several weeks.”

The face covering mandate put in place for students and staff will say in effect until further notice. In the board’s next regular meeting on Oct. 26, they will start to evaluate how to determine when masks are no longer needed.

“I don’t know what’s going to change by December, I’m not sure what’s going to change by January or February,” said Pickard. “But I also know that the governor comes out with things at times, the CDC comes out with things at times, so I think we have to look at what the metrics look like to stay healthy and be healthy as we move forward.”

This week’s school board meeting comes two weeks after dozens of parents, teachers, and community members attended the Sept. 28 meeting to participate in a public forum about mask use. The board then decided to postpone a decision because earlier that day they were made aware of forthcoming guidance from the Iowa Department of Public Health and the governor about quarantine procedures and requirements. That guidance, made official on Sept. 29, stated that those in close contact with a positive COVID-19 patient would not have to quarantine with both parties were wearing masks.

This guidance does not apply to plastic face shields. However, the school board voted to continue allowing the use of face shields as an acceptable face covering because the advantages they afford to some students outweigh the risks of quarantine, especially for students with speech or language struggles or disabilities.

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