As the district continues to prepare for an Aug. 31 opening, the school board on Tuesday voted 3-2 to revise the district’s face-covering policy.
The new policy requires all students and staff to wear face masks, not just face coverings. This means that face shields are not allowed unless teachers need to utilize them for specific instructional purposes.
The board’s original policy allowed face shields and as a substitute for masks to maximize compliance, however, local health officials told the board that face shields are not as effective.
Additionally, the new policy identifies what types of masks are allowed in schools. Commercially produced surgical masks, respirators, as well as homemade cloth masks are allowed, provided they cover both the mouth and nose and fit snugly against a person’s face.
The face covering must be made of dense cloth or other dense material. They may not be made of lace, mesh or other porous material.
This means that bandanas and neck gaiters would not be allowed under the new policy, which superintendent Brennan Asplen said was to help ensure student safety.
Referencing a study monitoring the effectiveness of various masks, Asplen said the most effective were surgical masks. The least effective were bandanas, and gaiters were found to be less effective than wearing no mask at all because the porous material breaks up large particles, which allows them to remain in the air longer.
“I’ve been getting a lot of questions about gaiters, and I know that when you look at a lot of professional athletes wearing those, and our students are watching those athletes and they’re going to want to show up with those,” Asplen said. “But according to the research, those are not something that we want to have in our schools.”
The principal of each school will have the final authority to determine whether a face mask is suitable or not. Students are able to use a face shield in addition to the face mask, should they so choose.
Under the new policy, students would be exempt from wearing face masks if they get a medical certification saying they are not able to. They would then be asked to wear a face shield as a secondary precaution, unless the certification says they also are not able to wear a face shield.
Though they voted in favor of the original policy, board members Eric Robinson and Bridget Ziegler voted against the new policy, stating it is too restrictive for young children.
Ziegler said the policy would be difficult for young children to follow, stating they would be touching their mask several times a day, which could hurt more than it helps. Additionally, she said the masks would keep younger students from seeing facial expressions, which she says are critical for young students.
“I think it is such a critical time for development,” Ziegler said. “I’m very appreciative that within this policy there are some accommodations for the face shield to enhance that instructional aspect, but it isn’t only the instructor that those students are learning from. It is peer-to-peer at that time.”
Students who do not comply with the policy will first be reminded, and if they still refuse, they will be sent home and will be required to receive instruction through the district’s remote learning option.