Shelby County R-IV Board Approves a Mask Iniative for K-12 and Staff

November 24, 2020

By Thad Requet

The Shelby County R-IV School Board held a special meeting with Shelby County Health Director Audrey Gough to go over modifications Governor Mike Parsons has made available that may help keep kids in school during COVID-19.

After the Governor had a press conference last week making some announcements about modifying procedures. Shelby County R-IV Superintendent Troy Clawson said he and Audrey Gough met Monday and went over things.

Gough talked to Clawson and the board about the governor’s latest modifications on COVID-19 and how she interpreted it. “When I went through his guidance, it was disheartening to see some of the things he had in there,” she said. Gough went through what Parsons released and sent what she would expect to modify if he school district decided to do so. “This is a decision you all will have to make. First and foremost it involves a mask mandate. I know many are against masks and it’s pretty evident when you are out in public that masks are not a priority,” Gough said. The governor’s mandate would require masks for K-12 and the school district would have to oversee this. They would have to be over the nose and over the mouth. Gough said that Gators are okay to use. They would have to be double layered. They have to be over your nose and mouth. “If we got a mask mandate I feel it would slow down the spread. She said the mandate would include students, teachers and staff.

“I understand there will be children who can’t do this because of respiratory issues, and there will be kids with special needs that won’t be able to do it. That is understandable. We are asking that if you do put a mandate in place, we will continue to identify those students and staff members who are close contacts. They will be allowed to go to school but will be monitored twice a day. When they get to school they will be sent to the nurse’s station for a temperature check and they will be assessed for symptoms. They will be checked again after lunch,” she explained. If there is anything that sends out warnings to nurses the person will be sent home for the full 14 days where they will be in quarantine/isolation, as well as their family members.

“By allowing the kids to come to school we are allowing them to get their education in person in a desk in front of teachers. This is for school time only. No church activities. No sports or extracurricular activities for those in quarantine. Just like our essential workers. They work and then go home. That continues to slow the spread of the virus,” Gough explained.

With a mask mandate there are a lot of parameters that need to be put in place. The masks need to be washed daily. This will not for just a couple of weeks. This is probably for the school year.

They would have lanyards, so they can take them off to eat. If they choose to go this route, this is what Gough would recommend.

If someone doesn’t wear a mask because of a doctor’s excuse, that person and everyone around will be quarantined.

Board Member Kendel Wood asked Clawson if they could social distance in the classroom. Clawson said it depends on the classroom and the situation. If the teacher is up front talking, they could probably take it off. If they are going around and helping individual students, they would have to wear it.

Clawson said he thinks it is important that the kids see the teacher’s face.

“We’ve been very diligent and thorough on contact tracing. We’ve watched a lot of bus and cafeteria tape,” he said. The younger grades have more kids in individual classes.

Gough said right now they are not recognizing shields as effective ways to stop the spread of the virus. “At this point they don’t have enough scientific proof to show it works properly,” she explained.

Clawson said the district will supply masks as long as it can. He thinks a lot of people would bring there own. Some kids have prepared decorative masks.

Gough also noted that bandannas don’t work. It has to be a mask or a gator.

Clawson said they have talked to the staff and they are willing to give it a try to keep the kids in school. He said they will reassess this through December to see if it is working or not. “Most of the time we’ve been fine but we are always a case or two away from it getting out of control,” Clawson said.

Gough said she understands virtual is tough in the rural area. She said her board isn’t excited about doing the mandate which will allow those kids who would normally be in quarantine to still be able to go to school, but they are trying to split the difference with what the governor said.

Glover said what he likes best is that it promotes kids wearing their masks. Gough said if the kids wear their masks properly, they won’t have to worry about contact tracing.

She added that hospitals are full, and workers are working sick and are burned out. She encouraged people to wear a mask, social distance and wash your hands.

Clawson said they are probably at the yellow level with what is going on in the county. He worries about losing staff members. Foster asked how many staff members would it take to lose to shut down. High School Principal Tim Maddex said the higher cases in the county, the less subs that are available.

Elementary Principal Katie Stueve said that they have subs who have said they are not coming back until things settle down. Middle School Principal Curt Bowen said he is having a hard time finding subs.

Board member Scott Gough asked what the buy in is for kids and staff. Clawson said staying in school is the motivation to wear masks.

“We don’t want to discipline students if they don’t wear a mask. We are just going to see how it goes, and if it’s not working, we’ll have to do something else. Through December we will promote this in a positive manner,” Clawson said.

Glover asked about the four tickets per player for extra curricular activities, and what is the expectation of those who come in to watch games. Clawson said it’s up to the board to decide how they want to approach that. Board member Darin Eleazarraraz said that it might put the person working the gate in a tough situation.

Gough said a crowd yelling spreads it more. This doesn’t only put school in peril, but entire community.

Glover said he feels like we can’t live in a bubble. We still have to go to school, we still have to play sports, we still have to play in the band. I don’t understand why the band isn’t playing. They explained that the Clarence Cannon Conference made a rule about the bands not playing at CCC games at this time. Clawson explained that some of the bands in the CCC have a large amount of people and with each person getting four tickets it would potentially make for an unsafe amount of people at the events. He said they will have non-conference games that South Shelby’s band will perform since it doesn’t have nearly as many members as some other conference schools.

A motion was approved to follow the recommendations of the Shelby County Health Department on the revised guidelines of COVID19, and implement a school-wide mask initiative as mandated by the governor. It passed by a vote of 7-0. This will not include pre-school children. This initiative will be reviewed by the school board at the December meeting.