ATLANTIC – The debate on whether to mandate the use of masks in the Atlantic School District came up Wednesday night after Board Member Nick Hunt thought the policy should be revisited since there was a chance in the recommendation on the use of face coverings from the state. Board President Josh McLaren suggested the board consider the issue during another meeting to keep on track with the agenda.
The district currently does not require, though recommends, students and staff wear masks during school hours. It has also put social distancing and other guidelines in place when school began in August.
Atlantic Superintendent Steve Barber said when in person classes resumed many sixth to 12th grade students and staff were wearing masks and estimated about 30 percent of the student body and many staff members were wearing masks. Principals in the buildings with pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students say the percentage of students wearing masks there is around 10 percent, however, these classes are in “bubbles,” isolated from students in other classrooms. Many staff are also wearing masks when they are not with the students.
Governor Kim Reynolds announced changes earlier this month to DHS guidelines which stated that people who are in contact with a person who has COVID-19 do not have to quarantine if both individuals are wearing face coverings consistently and properly. Instead, the person who comes in contact needs to monitor their symptoms.
Board Member Nick Hunt said because of the change he thought schools may be more likely to have a mask mandate because it could help students learn at school.
“I think with the change by the governor -that has given us more emphasis to use a mandated mask policy because it would help us avoid quarantine,” he said.
He added that keeping people healthy and safe is always a goal of school officials, but another goal was to have students learning in person. He said he spoke with other school officials who had mask mandates and said they were “working fine” and noting that many of them had the policy because it cut down on absenteeism. At least a couple officials said enforcement hasn’t been a problem since everyone is required to wear one, which creates pressure to do so.
District Nurse Laura Freund told Hunt that the number of positive COVID -19 cases “are going to get worse,” and there is concern amongst staff members about the numbers going up, spreading the disease, and whether or not the school would have to go to a hybrid learning plan.
Board Member Laura McLean agreed with Hunt, saying the district had tried the current mask policy, and maybe it was time to try a different one.
However, Board member Jenny Williams wondered how the current policy was working.
“(The policy says) we expect you to wear (face coverings) when you can’t social distance,” Williams said. “My question is - when (teachers are) in a situation (where students can’t practice social distancing rules) do you say, ‘hey, kids, it’s time to put the mask on. We’re not able to social distance because we are working in small groups.’”
Board Member Kristy Pellett said she had seen several students wearing masks, especially at sporting events, and thought if the disease was more prevalent in the district, then it may be time to discuss the use of face coverings, but she wasn’t seeing that.
McLaren said he was not in favor of a mask mandate, and suggested bringing the topic back at another time as a discussion item to get back on track with the agenda.