Gasconade R-2 directors approve mask protocol; close schools Nov. 23-27

By Roxie Murphy, Staff Writer
Posted 11/18/20

In a unanimous vote Monday night, the Gasconade County R-2 Board of Education approved with a 7-0 vote the expansion of the district’s mask protocol — “requiring masks for all …

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Gasconade R-2 directors approve mask protocol; close schools Nov. 23-27

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In a unanimous vote Monday night, the Gasconade County R-2 Board of Education approved with a 7-0 vote the expansion of the district’s mask protocol — “requiring masks for all individuals when a minimum of six feet cannot be guaranteed, while at school, when reasonably practical.”

The board heard from two concerned parents, Brian Diehl and Bill Miles. Diehl told the board he didn’t care one way or another which direction they went with the mandate but asked that they not implement the new procedure until January to allow students who are currently learning in-seat a chance to go virtual.

“My understanding is that if we pull them to virtual in the middle of the semester that they have to start over,” Diehl explained. “I don’t feel that is right because the students have worked really hard to get where they are.”

Miles took a firm stance for the mask mandate. He said he encourages his son to wear a mask at all times at school and claims that fellow students have pulled the mask from his son’s face and told him COVID is a hoax.

“I encourage my son to wear masks because they work,” Miles told the board of education members, most of whom were not wearing a mask during the meeting. “Generally speaking I would like my kid to continue to be in school. I want to protect kids and teachers, especially when we can’t get substitutes.”

Board President Glenn Ely spoke after Miles.

“Nothing is more important than families who care about their kids. It makes the teachers’ jobs easier,” Ely said.

Ely said the decision to expand their mask protocol is a strategic one, although to date no secondary contacts have tested positive due to a school exposure.

Assistant Superintendent Jeri Kay Hardy confirmed that statement Tuesday morning. “From any positive COVID cases, we have not had any quarantined students test positive that we can contact trace,” Hardy said.

Director Jason Crowe asked how recess and physical education would be conducted. Superintendent Dr. Chuck Garner answered.

“It is handled at each building, although sometimes it is not feasible,” Garner said. “This is just like contact tracing for school-related events.”

Crowe asked if students could get a doctor’s note if for some reason they couldn’t wear a mask due to another condition. Garner advised that parents who have questions like that should speak with building administrators to work something out for their student, as the expansion of the masking protocol is not a blanket mandate.

“Is a face shield acceptable,” Owensville Middle School Principal Teresa Schulte asked.

Garner said a face shield would help, but has not been proven to be as efficient as a mask and would not be accepted in lieu of one. “It is only for masks right now,” Garner said. “But protocols change, and right now those are not in the guidelines.”

Director Molly Steinbeck pointed out that if masks are to be worn properly it would take a lot of policing by teachers, staff and administrators — but especially teachers.

“We would be depending on teachers and a lot of people to know if masks were worn properly if we are called upon to answer questions,” Steinbeck said.

Ely said they know what they have done so far has worked.

“We know even social distancing and washing hands has an impact on students,” Ely said. “Keeping kids in-seat is best. It is important to expect the administrators to do things in a responsible way.”

The board voted 7-0 to expand the district’s mask protocol with Russ Farrell making the motion and a second from Steinbeck. The policy will need to be approved by the health department to be considered legitimate under the new COVID-19 guidelines that the state health department released Nov. 12 in a joint statement with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

Garner sent out a letter to students and parents late Tuesday morning explaining the new protocol. Some of the building administrators sent information to their teachers and staff Monday night.

“We will begin telling kids they need a mask for the remainder of this week,” Garner said. “When we come back the following week (Nov. 30), the mandate will be in place.”

Hardy said the district’s current concern is making sure procedures are in place.

“This week we will remind students through Friday about having a mask — where is it? If they don’t have one, do they need one? Did they forget it? Are they wearing it properly?” Hardy said. “A lot of teaching and reteaching and grace will be needed in the beginning. After the procedure is in place, it would be like having a dress code violation, but we have to provide a lot of grace to students while they are learning. We don’t want this to be a negative impact on students. We want this to be so students can stay in school and stay safe.”

Garner said they would allow parents to place their students into the e-learning program from in-seat learning in the middle of the semester if they don’t wish their child to participate in the mask protocol.

In the following 7-0 vote, Director Jean Baker made a motion that was seconded by Director Debbie Landolt to alter the school calendar. They canceled classes for Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 23-24, out of an abundance of caution for families.

Garner said they hoped the cancellation of classes at the beginning of next week would allow time for families to notice if they were developing any COVID-19 symptoms prior to travel.

The board passed a third motion with a 7-0 vote to allow district school nurses to be considered essential workers within the district.

“What that does is if we have nurses who have to be out because of quarantine and we are running short in the district, those nurses can be called in even if they are quarantined,” Hardy said. “If they are sick, we will not call them in, but if we were short and needed coverage, this gives us the option of doing that.”

This declaration was first made by the state and DESE, and the district chose to accept it into the policy in case of emergencies.

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