Some rural Iowa schools are eliminating mask requirements amid updated CDC guidance which loosens some social distancing requirements, though notably not their mask recommendations.
North Butler in Greene County, BCLUW serving Grundy, Marshall, and Hardin Counties, West Hancock in Hancock County and Kingsley-Pierson near Sioux City are community districts confirmed to have lifted mask-wearing requirements in their schools.
The CDC on Friday relaxed social distancing guidelines in schools, suggesting that at least 3 feet of social distancing between students is necessary rather than the previously recommended 6 feet. The CDC also retracted recommendations for physical barriers while stressing ventilation and mask-wearing.
“Individual staff members can not require masks throughout the buildings, but staff can encourage them,” wrote North Butler Superintendent Joel Foster on Sunday evening in a Facebook post on the district’s page.
“I believe that the goal for the board and myself is that we get kids back to as much a sense of normalcy as possible. At this point all staff members who have chosen to have been vaccinated, and research shows that students are not shown to be heavy transmitters of the virus. These changes will be revisited again, just as we have constantly revisited all aspects of our Covid protocol.”
Beginning Monday, the North Butler Board of Education lifted any requirement of masks, instead “recommending” they be worn. Good hygiene practice is still suggested by the district, the post reads, and staff members and students who test positive will need to stay home.
If exposed to COVID-19, staff members have a choice of quarantine or coming to work, while students’ parents will be notified if their child has been exposed and will have a choice of whether to quarantine or send them to school.
On Wednesday, the Grundy Register reported that BCLUW Community School District School Board voted unanimously to repeal its mask mandate for students and staff.
School board guidance now “highly recommends” mask-wearing, “citing an overall decrease in COVID-19 positivity rates and contradictory guidance between state and federal agencies.”
“What we’re doing is checking boxes by wearing a mask,” board member LJ Kopsa said. “To me, that doesn’t say science, it just says paperwork.”
In West Hancock Community School District in Britt, Iowa, the process of ‘demasking” began about six weeks ago, according to Superintendent Wayne Kronemann. The decision to loosen the mask requirements led to the March 15 resignation of school board member Rene Abels, who felt uncomfortable with the decision.
Kindergarten and first grade students started to unmask in January, the Globe Gazette reported, and all elementary school and middle school students shortly followed.
Abels’ decision to resign was triggered by the lax mask requirements compounded by the February death of her brother to COVID-19.
“Abels said that every time there was a board vote on the masks, she felt like she was on an island onto herself,” wrote the Globe Gazette.
Kingsley-Pierson Community School District’s Superintendent Scott Bailey sent an email to parents on March 10 which provides updates on the relaxed mask guidelines.
For 5-12 graders, masks are still required in classrooms but not in the hallways or the commons area.
“Masks are voluntary during passing times and while students are in the commons area,” Bailey wrote. “This allows for some personal freedom in the hallways and commons but still maintains masks when students are in closed classrooms and in close contact for 15 or more minutes.”
The lifted mask mandates come as federal guidance stresses mask wearing while loosening social distancing. Some Iowa teachers said social distancing has been lax in schools since late summer, however.
“We have been face to face with no real social distancing all year. We have had some outbreaks. But we have worn masks faithfully and sanitized desks between students when possible,” said a middle and high school teacher in Danville, Iowa.
“There is no reason to lift the mask mandate. The kids are doing great with masks, they do not complain. I think it is the adults that complain and want to get rid of the masks as a political statement. Stupid stupid stupid. We teachers and staff have been so dedicated and hardworking. We have worked hard to feel safe in the buildings. Why would you take that away?”
by Isabella Murray
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