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Mt. Pleasant approves in-class plan with mask requirement

MT. PLEASANT — Mt. Pleasant Community School District students will be returning to the classroom on Aug. 24.

The district’s school board approved a return-to-learn plan on Monday evening that would begin face-to-face instruction while offering a remote-learning option. The plan passed on a 6-1 vote with board member Chuck Andrew voting against the approval.

During public comments, Dr. Joseph Tansey presented a letter from health care professionals from across the county in support of mandatory masks for all grade level students in schools.

“As medical staff, we have been actively involved in fighting this pandemic … historic lessons learned from previous pandemics have proven that universal masking, physical distancing, frequent handwashing and quarantining are appropriate and effective mitigation strategies,” he said.

The doctor added requiring masks will make sure students will be able to continue in a face-to-face model for as long as possible.

Following Tansey, Molly Inwersen and Lottie Schnicker, Van Allen Elementary teachers and co-presidents of the Mt. Pleasant Education Association, addressed the board and laid out the most pertinent questions district teachers had.

The pair pointed to classroom abilities to properly socially distance, protocols for enforcing a mask requirement, technology training for a hybrid or remote learning model and clear communication to families about what choosing a remote learning model will entail and expectations on participation.

“If we have these things spelled out ahead of time, it only makes us stronger … I think that there are really good bones to [the return-to-learn plan],” Schnicker added.

Superintendent John Henriksen noted the district is working to schedule and provide additional training to teachers and is working on an agreement families will sign and acknowledge if they should choose the remote-learning option.

During discussion of the plan, Henriksen covered key points and reiterated the district plans to begin with face-to-face instruction.

The superintendent reviewed the face-covering policy, which requires students to wear coverings while on buses and requires all students and staff to wear masks or shields when 6 feet social distancing is not possible. Masks will not be required during recess.

Tansey commented he would like to see a mask mandate that would require students to use masks during recess and to strike the 6-foot distancing stipulation. He felt masks should be required at all times even when 6-foot distancing is achievable.

Salem and Harlan Elementary School Principal Michael Gossen said he felt approving a plan with too much rigidity would not allow teachers room to work with students who may have a harder time adjusting to masks.

“Teachers need a little bit of grace depending on kids’ needs … It’s not fair to expect teachers to hold kids accountable to that,” Gossen said.

Henriksen again covered the hybrid and remote-learning models. In a hybrid model, the district wants to continue meeting with the youngest learners. Kindergarten through sixth-grade students will continue daily face-to-face instruction while seventh- through 12-grade students will be on a rotational schedule and will meet in-person for five days across a two-week time span.

K-6 students will be spread out at buildings across the district.

Though the district will meet in-person, a remote option will be available.

Henriksen noted other districts are purchasing seats for students for online curriculum taught by third-party platforms. Students in Mt. Pleasant will receive instruction created and taught by district teachers.

Kathleen Gavin, the district’s director of instruction and curriculum, said this would allow any transition into either hybrid or remote a little easier. Should a transition need to be made, Henriksen added the district will shut down for at least several days to prepare for the new model.

At the time of the meeting, the superintendent said more than 200 families had responded to a family interest survey and indicated they would like to register for the remote-learning model.

Lincoln Elementary School principal Lori LaFrenz, who spoke to many families about what a remot-learning experience would be like, said the number will likely go down because several families were confused and believed the survey was registration in the event the district were to go into hybrid or remote learning.

As the board moved to approve the plan, Andrew motioned to approve the plan with an amendment to the mask policy, which would make face coverings highly recommended. The motion failed to move forward and was subsequently passed with the current language in place. Andrew voted against the approval.