Will face masks be required in the school district in the fall?
No, if you follow the guidance of the Iowa Department of Education.
Yes, if you go by the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Up to local administrators, if you listen to Gov. Kim Reynolds’s latest order.
As the new school year approaches, and the coronavirus continues to disrupt communities, school administrators, school boards, teachers, families and students are wrestling with figuring out how to balance educational goals with public health concerns.
The most recent guidance from the Iowa Department of Education, issued on June 25, says that starting July 1, screening students and staff upon entering the building is not recommended and neither is the wearing of masks.
“Requiring face coverings for all staff and students is not recommended,” says the directive posted on educateiowa.gov. “Allow the personal use of cloth face coverings by staff and students. Teach and reinforce the prevention of stigma associated with the use or non-use of facial coverings to support a respectful, inclusive, and supportive school environment.”
The guidance also says that physical distancing may not be guaranteed in transportation and school activities,
“This is similar to when children congregate in their community,” the document reads. “It is important for schools to implement preventative health changes that can be sustainable and done with fidelity.”
By contrast, the CDC, in a May 19 directive, says cloth face coverings should be worn, especially in situations where social distancing is problematic.
“Teach and reinforce use of cloth face coverings,” the recommendations read. “Face coverings may be challenging for students (especially younger students) to wear in all-day settings such as school. Face coverings should be worn by staff and students (particularly older students) as feasible, and are most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult.”
Sorting through the guidelines and the fluctuating directives, while monitoring what other districts, universities and private colleges plan in order to prepare for the fall can be confusing and frustrating, says W-SR Superintendent Ed Klamfoth.
“Part of the problem is that the guidance from the CDC has changed over time,” he told Waverly Newspapers on Friday.
What keeps Klamfoth awake at night is not so much the directive on mask wearing, which has become politicized and garnered a lot of national attention, but rather, what the learning environment would look like and how to ensure the safety of employees and students.
The governor’s mandate that ultimately it is a local decision also poses quandaries.
“Local decision based on what?” Klamfoth asks rhetorically. “Based on the number of hospitalizations or the number of recoveries or the number of new cases? There is so little guidance and so many things to consider…”
WHAT’S ON THE TABLE FOR NOW
Like other districts and institutions of higher learning, W-SR is looking at three pathways to the fall semester.
In the most optimistic scenario, instruction would be face-to-face. In the least optimistic one, it would be virtual. A trial run of sorts happened in the spring, when the pandemic first struck. But in the fall, should this scenario be activated, participation for students would be mandatory, unlike the optional solution implemented in the spring for elementary and middle school students.
In a third scenario, which borrows elements from in-person instruction and online learning, called “hybrid,” some students would meet in person one week, and do school work online the following, while the other section of the class alternates in person.
If the hybrid alternative becomes the norm, siblings who are in different grades will be kept on the same schedule to ease the logistics at home, Klamfoth said.
Another idea is to shorten the week, abandon the early dismissal on Wednesday and go to school through Thursday, leaving Friday as the day for teacher development and activities, as well as for deeper cleaning of the premises.
Klamfoth said he expects to hear more clarity from the governing bodies, and health experts, among others, as the summer goes.
Parents, he said, span the spectrum in their wishes and recommendation. Some advocate for wearing face coverings, others are against it. Some want to see instruction in person only, others favor strictly online learning.
Meanwhile, Klamfoth, the board and over 400 teachers and staff members are prepping the best they can for what Aug. 24 may bring.
One big takeaway from the spring, Klamfoth added, is how much the kids missed each other and being in school.
“Frankly, it does not matter which way we go, there will be some challenges we face,” Klamfoth said.