The Lewis Central Community School District Board of Education approved a Return to Learn plan Monday that requires the use of facial coverings.
Discussion reflected the proclamation issued by Gov. Kim Reynolds Friday stating that school districts must provide at least half of their instruction in person.
“We’ve been ordered to open schools in a brick-and-mortar setting,” Superintendent Eric Knost said, noting that the governor’s proclamation does not give local school boards a choice.
Several measures will be needed to protect staff and students, Knost said during the board meeting held on the Zoom videoconferencing service.
“It will be the district’s expectation that staff and students utilize masks,” he said.
Originally, this policy was meant to apply only to staff and students in fourth grade or higher, Knost said.
“Since I put this in writing, local public health officials have said they do recommend we extend that to all ages in our system,” he said.
The school district will provide washable, reusable masks and high-quality 3-ply masks, Knost said. They will be more than just a cloth stretched across the face. They will not be medical-grade N95 masks.
The expectation that everyone wear masks cannot be absolute, Knost said. For example, students could not be expected to wear masks while eating. In addition, there need to be “mask breaks” occasionally. In some cases, students might pull their masks down just to get a breath of fresh air.
“We can’t, nor do I think we should, police that,” he said.
Board member Jennifer McDaniels expressed support for having students and staff wear masks.
“If that’s what the health officials are saying and the American Academy of Pediatrics and the local health department, I think we should follow that,” she said, referring to the AAP’s guidance that students should be physically present in school.
Knost said he didn’t think the district would have 100% of the people in masks 100% of the time.
“In my opinion, without a medical reason, they (masks) should be mandated for students and staff,” board member Travis Houseton said.
Board member Brian Stoufer asked who could request an exemption and who would decide if the person had a valid reason.
“From a legal standpoint, the board does have the right to require masks,” Knost said. “The Department of Public Health makes clear if we want to feel better about school opening, masks are the best mitigation effort to consider.”
The administration has also talked about shields, said Dave Black, school improvement specialist. The district has some students who are hard of hearing and need to read lips, he said.
Students seeking an exemption should have a doctor’s note, it was suggested.
“I think it needs to be a doctor’s order,” board President Dorene Scheffel said. “I would think we need to have more than just a parent saying ‘my kid’s not going to wear a mask.’”
“I think masks should be required for all students” except those with a doctor’s order, board member Bob Hendrix said. “Essentially, you can’t enter the building without a covering on your face.”
Knost said some staff members prefer shields, and they could be considered an acceptable alternative for people who prefer them.
When the school district grants an exception to the mask requirement because of a doctor’s note, it should recommend a shield, McDaniels said.
“If there’s an issue with the breathing, I would hope a shield could be an alternative,” she said.
Parents who have children with compromised immune systems should talk to school officials about online opportunities, Knost said. The district has built up its virtual school capabilities and would have virtual instruction available for students who are quarantined or need to remain at home for some reason.
More than 200 people watched the Zoom meeting, and many typed questions or comments into the chat space.
It would be hard to wear a mask during physical exertion, one viewer typed into the chat. Currently, students are not required to wear masks during outdoor activities.
Chris Kirke spoke in favor of requiring masks.
“If we can keep kids out of school for (not having required) vaccinations, why can’t we keep kids out of school if not wearing a mask?” Kirke typed in the Zoom chat field.
“I support mandating masks for all students,” wrote Breanna Cunningham.
“Thank you to our leaders at Lewis Central for trusting the science and working to keep staff and students safe,” typed Rebbeca Wilson.
Knost said he would talk to public health to determine the best language.
“We have to ask our parents to reinforce these things with their children,” Knost said. “I hope we can view this as ‘It’s better than our kids being at home all the time.’”
Knost said the district would encourage parents to check their children daily for symptoms. He said it had been recommended that schools have two triage areas — one for students who have symptoms of a contagious illness, and one for the others.
“What we want to prevent is a kid with a scraped knee from sitting next to a kid with a fever,” he said.
The school district will practice social distancing as much as possible, but Knost made it clear that there would be no guarantee that there would always be 6 feet of space between people.
“We can’t accomplish 6 feet apart in all of our classrooms, but we can spread out,” he said. “It won’t be perfect, but every effort will make a difference — I believe that.”
The district has considered various means of reducing numbers during high-traffic times, Knost said. Lewis Central High School is increasing lunch periods from two to four each day, Knost said. The district will also reduce or eliminate visitors and volunteers. The district will look to public health officials to do tracing and decide whether schools should be shut down.
Also in Council Bluffs, Iowa Western Community College has tightened the language in its fall plan from stating the college “highly encourages” people to wear facial coverings to a blanket requirement, President Dan Kinney told the college’s board of trustees Monday.
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