Masks required in grades sixth and below at MCSD

After more than an hour of discussion, the Marshalltown Community School Board voted to enact a mask mandate for a portion of students and staff.

After a first recommendation from Superintendent Theron Schutte to require masks for all students and staff failed by a vote of three yeas and four nays, Schutte’s second recommendation passed with a vote of four yeas and three nays.

Students in grades pre-kindergarten through sixth are required to wear masks while indoors at school. Staff who serve those students are also required to mask indoors. Students in grades seventh and up as well as staff in those buildings will stick to masks as optional.

Board members Sara Faltys, Bonnie Lowry and Mike Miller voted nay to both mandates with board member Karina Hernandez voting nay to the first recommendation and yea to the second recommendation. Board President Bea Niblock, Vice President Sean Heitmann and board member Janis McGinnis voted yea to both mandates.

Schutte said the decision was not an easy one to make. He said whether or not one agrees with the Centers for Disease Control, the organization recommends universal masking of all students and staff when indoors whether vaccinated or not.

“For that reason, and because I feel like I’m morally, ethically and professionally obligated to do what is in the best interest of all of our students, all of our staff, my recommendation would be for at least for the foreseeable future until we have some better metrics for which to make decisions on when it is okay to not mask, that we have universal masking in all of our schools,” Schutte said.

The debate between board members centered around parental choice and mask effectiveness.

McGinnis said she was in favor of a mask mandate for children ages 12 and younger as well as staff in elementary and intermediate buildings because those children have not yet been approved to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. She cited a review published by the National Academy of Sciences which showed face masks properly worn by everyone in a group can reduce the spread of droplet-borne diseases by more than 70 percent. McGinnis also said students in need of an exemption could work with their school nurse and also advocated for periodic outdoor mask breaks.

“Wearing a mask when with other people in an enclosed space shows concern for the health of the community,” McGinnis said. “One of the things every teacher strives to teach our young children is that they should be kind to one another and care for the other members of their community.”

Miller, who voted against both mask mandates, argued it has never been possible to properly enforce a mask mandate and said universal masking is pointless if others cannot wear their masks properly.

“It doesn’t work,” Miller said. “All the statistics that we quote about the effectiveness of masks are meaningless because we don’t, we can’t follow the kinds of practices, who kids in particular can’t follow these kinds of practices. I’m an advocate of letting parents choose what is best for them.”

McGinnis responded to the claim by citing the same review, which said even without perfect compliance masks are effective in reducing the spread of disease.

Miller also argued masks do more damage than good for students, and said he heard stories from parents who have said their children have had difficulty learning from wearing masks in schools.

Faltys argued against any mandate and said she is not sure what a mask mandate would do if there are still sporting events where masks are not required.

“If we’re going to put a mask mandate then it’s got to be everywhere and I don’t agree with that at all,” Faltys said.

Schutte said at indoor sporting events spectators would be expected to wear masks.

Survey shows parents split, staff favor mask mandate

Made public at the meeting were results from a survey on masking in schools emailed to district parents and staff on Thursday.

The survey asked two questions; should masks be mandatory or optional for students, and should masks be mandatory or optional for staff.

Parents who responded split on masking.

Among 993 responses from parents and guardians, 50.4 percent said masks should be optional for students and 49.6 percent said mandatory. On if masks should be required for staff members, 49.2 percent of respondents said optional and 50.8 percent said mandatory.

Results from the same survey sent to staff members favored mandatory masking. From 511 respondents among school staff, 58.9 percent said masks should be mandatory for students and 41.1 percent said optional. Staff respondents also favored mandatory masking among themselves, with 52.4 percent choosing mandatory and 47.6 percent choosing optional.

Board members also examined data on case counts and attendance rates three weeks into the school year compared to last year. Data showed higher rates of attendance in 2020 at three weeks versus in 2021, with more than a 95 percent attendance rate last year and more than a 90 percent attendance rate three weeks into the current school year.

Case counts among students and staff are higher so far this year, with the biggest uptick among students and a minimal uptick with staff. At three weeks in, the school has 42 positive cases among students as opposed to seven last year.

“I can tell you that we have seen increased incidents in our elementarys this year, a little bit more than we were seeing last year,” school district lead nurse Stacey Tool-Crawford said.

She said the only thing that could skew the data would be hybrid learning which was in effect at the beginning of the year in 2020.

––––––

Contact Trevor Babcock at 641-753-6611 or tbabcock@timesrepublican.com.