Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
The Mt. Pleasant school board rejected a motion Monday that would have required one of the district's six academic centers to wear masks depending on the absentee rate in the specific building.
The motion, which board member Martha Wiley proposed, read as:
"If a five-day average total absentee rate at any attendance center is 8% or higher, that building's students, staff and visitors would begin a mask mandate for all indoor activities that would include close contact for more than a brief period of time. This mandate would stay in effect until the first of December, when many students, who would have received the vaccine, would be considered fully vaccinated. At that time, the board would review changes in the building's status."
Wiley felt this motion would be sufficient in helping students stay protected against COVID-19 and lessen its impact on the district if the percentage was met.
There were several discrepancies in the motion, according to board member Chuck Andrew.
Andrew felt that it would be hard to control the students in an after-school setting, extracurricular activities, or even at home. He said that it would only manage that building in question.
He also mentioned that the majority of staff, students and parents showed that they were not in favor of a mandate, shown by the survey sent out by Superintendent John Henriksen. It showed that over 70% would not prefer a mandate of any sort.
Board President Jennifer Crull had the suggestion of changing the percentage from 8% to 10%.
"What about making it 10%," Crull said. "The 10% is what we're required to be reporting. If we saw a five-day average of 10% or higher, that would be a cause for concern."
An absentee rate of 10% or more, which has to be reported to the state, relates to absences as a whole, not explicitly associated with COVID-19. This was something that Andrew pointed out.
Crull said regardless of absent reasons, a percentage that high is still concerning.
"If 10% of our building is missing for more than five days, we have lost learning. That would be my concern," she said.
Member Willy Amos that he didn't want a mask mandate but would prefer an increase to a 10% absentee rate if anything would change and it got to that point.
Member Kevin Sandersfeld brought up one question on distinguishing close contact and how long the time together would be evaluated in the different buildings.
Wiley said that the discretion would have to be left up to those overseeing masks in the building.
Member Angie Blint argued that the first of December date for vaccinations doesn't pertain to high school kids because they are already being offered the vaccine.
Superintendent John Henriksen said that other superintendents have said it's been hard to enforce a safe social distance.
"We had our superintendents meeting last week," Henriksen said. "The superintendents of the districts that went back to a mask mandate said just how difficult it has been to try to constantly enforce that."
Henriksen also said it would be hard for administrators to manage.
"It's going to be very difficult for our building administrators to administer this," he said. "It may be less difficult at the elementary's, but it's going to be really difficult at the secondary buildings, with something that's not district-wide. We overwhelmingly heard from our staff and parents on how they feel. Please don't do this again is basically what they said. It's just going to be really hard on the administrative team to do this."
The motion was voted down with Sandersfeld, Andrew, Crull, Amos, and Blint.
Wiley and board member Josh Maher voted yes.