In the aftermath of last week’s closures, St. Joseph’s education officials considered but ultimately rejected a proposal to reinstate a mask mandate for school buildings.
The motion came after LaTonya Williams offered to open a discussion about possibly reinstating face-covering rules. Williams said she had no plans in mind when she did this. In discussion with board members, she ultimately supported the fall 2021 plan to require masks in any building where 7% or more of the student body had fallen ill or been directly exposed to COVID-19. The board implemented this policy for about a month before moving away from it at the end of December.
“I don’t know what the answer is, but I know our current position is not that,” Williams said. Because the district was shorted by 55 teachers on Jan. 14, operations were heavily impacted, and Williams said that needs to be avoided.
Williams’ motion to reinstate the term failed 2-4, with Lori Witham voting “yes” with Williams. Board chair Tami Pasley voted “no”, alongside board vice-chair Bryan Green, as well as David Foster and Kenneth Reeder. Board member Rick Gilmore, who has tended to vote “no” on mask mandates so far, did not show up for Monday’s meeting.
Green, who is a physician at Mosaic Life Care, said he believes, based on advice from colleagues, that omicron’s current surge of COVID-19 will subside significantly within a month. Indeed, the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 day after day in Buchanan County is currently 33%, but that number is expected to drop. Additionally, Green noted, omicron is a weaker virus than COVID-alpha, the original strain, or especially last year’s delta outbreak. Combined with the effect of vaccines and certain therapeutic drugs, the threat is significantly reduced.
“Luckily this virus is not as dangerous as your grandfather’s COVID,” Green said. “We are basically dealing with colds at this point. It’s good news. He still closed our schools last week. But this is good news.
Pasley, a career math educator who continues to work for another district, said she found previous mandates were difficult to implement in her own classroom.
“As a practicing teacher, we weren’t masked and optional,” she said. “I have to think, if my kids were told to mask up, how much time would I spend telling them to mask up and how much time would I spend teaching?”
Council members noted that no matter what they do, masks will still be required on board all public transit vehicles, including school buses. This is a pre-established federal rule.