HERMANN — Although they recognize it as possibly inevitable, the Gasconade County R-1 School District policymakers are maintaining their reluctance to mandating the wearing of masks by …
HERMANN — Although they recognize it as possibly inevitable, the Gasconade County R-1 School District policymakers are maintaining their reluctance to mandating the wearing of masks by students.
The R-1 Board of Directors reaffirmed its stance Thursday night as school administrators were awaiting the return this week of most of the 100-plus elementary students who have been quarantined during the first three weeks of the school year.
The quarantining of students in itself has become an issue for R-1 directors and parents, chafing under a public health protocol that has students remaining at home even if they don’t develop symptoms of the coronavirus. The general belief is that the students would benefit more by being in school, especially if they don’t develop symptoms.
“It is a violation of our kids’ education rights,” said board member Tim Schulte.
He argued that recent statewide statistics show the problem not to as bad as it’s being presented. He said there have been only five deaths of children under 18 and only two deaths of children under 5 years of age.
“All these kids had underlying health conditions,” Schulte said. “The flu statistics are worse,” he added.
Indeed, directors — who have been hearing the complaints of parents who have had to arrange for care of their quarantined children — sent three specific questions to Gasconade County Health Department Administrator Greg Lara and asked him to respond in person at Thursday night’s regular monthly session.
Lara said he recognized how difficult the first few weeks of the school year have been for school administrators.
“It’s been confusing for everybody,” he said, including health agency staffers who spent much of the last year conducting contact tracing only to have a short breather before the Delta variant moved up Interstate 44 and settled into Gasconade County.
Lara was asked three questions by the board prior to the meeting.
• Does he see the county health agency going to a voluntary quarantine approach?
“We’re somewhat doing that now,” Lara said. But not necessarily by choice, he noted. A reduced health agency staff has led to a “reduced-type of investigating and contract tracing,” he explained.
•Also, the board asked if there is anything other than quarantining of students that would be effective.
“Probably the main thing that would be more effective (than quarantine) would be to get the students vaccinated if they’re eligible for that,” Lara said. “Stay home if sick, mask wearing…” he said, regarding ways of dealing with the latest wave of the coronavirus.
Board President Mark Brooks pursued the student mask option. “If we’re sending kids home, would it have been better if we had one more layer, having masks on the kids?” he asked.
Lara was non-committal on the matter.
“Every county we’ve talked to…has the same issue: To mask or not,” the health department chief said. “It might be a combination of things,” he added.
Brooks stopped short of saying a mask mandate is needed, but he did leave open the door for some movement in that direction.
“Certainly, when we make our decision, we’re not going to go outside the lanes of best practices,” he said.
• The third question also dealt with the quarantine of students, asking what the health agency’s long-range plan might be regarding sending home students who were in close proximity of a student testing positive for the virus.
Lara said the county agency will continue to act in accordance with state law and health department procedures.
“We’re expected to conduct these types of investigations and contact tracing,” he said. He added that he’s hopeful the virus will ease, making student quarantine less of a concern for school officials and parents.
But, Lara said, “Right now, this virus is classified as a highly transmissable virus, right up there with ebola.”
He returned to the students being vaccinated as the best way to avoid quarantine.
“Anything we can do with the vaccination, that’s going to help,” Lara said.
Lara noted that as of Thursday 6,274 Gasconade County residents were fully vaccinated. That’s a rate of 43 percent, one of the higher-rate counties in the state. Osage County, by comparison, has a fully vaccinated rate of 32.8 percent, he said.
Hermann Elementary School saw more than 100 of its students quarantined in the first three weeks of school. More than 40 of those returned to class two weeks ago and another 70 were expected back by the end of last week.
Superintendent Geoff Neill said he and the other superintendents in the county meet weekly to discuss efforts in dealing with the virus.
“Basically asking a bunch of questions,” he said. “We are trying to work together to keep our kids safe.”
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