R-1 approves mask mandate, begins Monday

By Laura Schiermeier, Staff Writer
Posted 11/25/20

VIENNA — The Maries R-1 School Board voted to approve a mask mandate for the school district in an effort to keep students and staff safe and to be able to keep the doors of the school …

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R-1 approves mask mandate, begins Monday

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VIENNA — The Maries R-1 School Board voted to approve a mask mandate for the school district in an effort to keep students and staff safe and to be able to keep the doors of the school open.

At the school board’s regular monthly meeting Monday night, the board talked extensively about declaring all school employees as essential employees. This would allow people who were deemed close contacts to still be able to come to school and work as long as they were wearing a mask and social distancing, and as long as they did not show any symptoms to the Covid-19 coronavirus. Staff members must by asymptomatic and must self-screen daily for symptoms. People who are sick should stay home. The board tabled the motion for essential employees, then brought the motion back to the floor and added the exclusion for a staff member who had continual close contact with a positive individual. If this is the case, the staff member would be required to quarantine and could not work during the time.

Also, the board members unanimously approved the mask mandate, saying they need to keep students and staff safe and mask wearing is the way health experts are suggesting.

During discussion about the mask mandate, the school board members were told when they came back to school in the fall, most students wore masks. But that practice fell off some.  And, then mask usage increased recently as the virus numbers surged in this area. The virus cases have increased exponentially, and includes many people who were hospitalized and five local deaths.

Board member Mike Kleffner said he thinks within the past 10 days, people have begun to take the virus and mask wearing much more seriously. Board members were told most of the staff wear a mask all day.

Kleffner said, “Everybody is preaching from top to bottom to wear masks. It will help us keep the school doors open.”

Board member Dave Garro said he personally has had brushes with the virus and was lucky not to get it. “It’s a pain but it’s what we have to do for now,” he said about the mask mandate.

Board President Vicki Bade asked about age limits on the mask wearing and Superintendent Mark Parker said it is up to them. The board can choose to have all students wear masks while in classrooms and hallways, or they can have it for grades three and up, or limit it to middle school and high school students. 

He said an individual who tests positive for the virus has to go home. But those persons who were present with that individual but were wearing masks have choice of whether or not to quarantine for 14 days or to continue to come to school and wear masks.

The board discussed to limit the mask wearing to middle school and high school students and to see how it goes, adding the elementary later if needed. Parker said close contacts are taking out so many people as 16 students sent home into quarantine 250 students. The close contacts take out that many people. Its hard to have school with so many people gone. The school badly needs substitute teachers as well.

Board Vice President Penny Schoene, who was at the meeting via telephone, said she thinks Maries R-1 needs the mask mandate. “If it protects the most at risk, I’m for it,” Parker said. Schoene said it won’t hurt to do it. Garro said it will minimize the transmission of the virus.

Elementary Principal Shanda Snodgrass, also attending the meeting via telephone, said the Pre-K through second grade students struggle with proper mask wearing. Special Education Director Joe Edwards said, “It’s a life skill at this point,” about the proper way to wear and handle a face mask.

Kleffner said the governor made the new rule that if schools have a mask mandate and the masks are worn correctly, they have more options with close contacts as long as they are asymptomatic they can stay in school. If they develop symptoms, they have to go home.

Edwards said if they see it spreading, they can make judgement calls. He thinks the biggest thing is the push-back from parents.

Bade made a motion for the mask mandate for all staff and for students in third grade to twelfth grade to take effect on Monday, Nov. 30 when students return from the Thanksgiving break.

Parker said they have masks at the school. High School Principal Ian Murray said students who come to school without a mask will be given one and asked to wear it all day. If they show up a second time they will be given a warning and made to wear a mask. The third time they show up without a mask they will be sent home. “Three times and they’re out,” he said. Bade said she didn’t want students to be put on ISS (in school suspension) as it’s too much trouble. She said the students who don’t adhere to the mask mandate can be sent home for the rest of the day and if they continue to come to school without a mask, they won’t come back to school.

Kleffner said, “We’re doing this for a reason. We’re trying to keep these doors open.”

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