ATLANTIC – Laura Robinson, a parent of three children in the Atlantic School District, has created an online petition asking the Atlantic School Board to mandate the use of masks in the district. She believes the use of masks will help cut down on repeated quarantines for students.

“I feel if the school mandates mask wearing we can keep our children in school, and not have potential repeated quarantines as pandemics are known to last 18 to 24 months,” she said Friday.

Atlantic Superintendent Steve Barber said Friday he was aware of the petition, and said school officials continue to discuss COVID-19 policies.

“We continue to look at our policies and how we are handling COVID,” Barber said. “We were having discussions about masks. We are going to continue to have conversations about masks. We expect and encourage people to mask up when social distancing can’t happen.”

Robinson is a nurse at Cass County Health System, and says she “(trusts) the science behind masking in protecting others while mitigating the spread of COVID-19,” and believes the quarantines won’t end “as long as we are not masking our children.”

She said her three school age children – a fourth grade student, a second grade student and a junior kindergarten student — have been wearing masks from the beginning, and none of her children had to quarantine until Friday. A student in fourth grade had tested positive, and now her fourth grade child has to quarantine until Oct. 27.

The quarantines can cause stress for many people, she said, whether it’s staff in the school district or nurses and public health workers, but also for parents who may have to miss work to take care of a child who has to be quarantined, but can’t be left home alone.

“I know I’m not the only working parent that is going to run into this,” she said. “(You start to have questions like) How do we make ends meet? How do we make sure bills are paid? Life isn’t going to stop going on just because our kids are getting quarantined.”

As of Friday afternoon, she said 250 people had signed the petition, and she had received several comments in favor of the mandate-including how it would help keep students in school.

Robinson said she plans to keep her petition online until the school board meets again, and plans to formally present it to the board.

The topic came up during Wednesday’s board meeting after Board Member Nick Hunt thought the policy should be revisited since there was a change in the recommendation on the use of face coverings from the state. Guidelines now say 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.

Hunt thought a mandate mask policy would “help (the district) avoid quarantine.”

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, other board members said they were against a mask mandate, and Board Member Jenny Williams said she was curious to know how the current policy was working.

“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,’” Williams said.

Robinson said Friday she had emailed each board member prior to the Wednesday meeting, and received emails back with the general message “We hear you and we hear your concerns.” She has since emailed them again since the meeting, and was waiting for their response.

Barber said there was a class that had been quarantined, and recounted the communication process school officials use when there is a positive COVID case identified.

“We have a communication plan in place that we use when we are notified of a positive COVID case for one of our students or staff,” Barber emailed to the media. “Individuals staff and parents of students who are determined in close contact are communicated directly by the school and/or Cass County Public Health. Any other individual that potentially could have become infected by the positive case gets notification. We continue to follow the guidelines of the Iowa Department of Public Health and those set up by the Governor in how we isolate and quarantine those affected.”

The petition can be found at change.org, and search for “Mask Mandate for ACSD.”