As school districts ready for Thanksgiving break, families and district leaders are again discussing masking in schools. For some, they’d like to see masking requirements continue as there is trepidation about family gatherings and whether there will be increased numbers of COVID-19 cases in Liberty and Smithville. For others, they’d like to see universal masking end.

Smithville School District

Denise Harwood, director of student services in Smithville, presented monthly findings and reviewed the district’s gating criteria with the Smithville Board of Education Nov. 17.

“The numbers have increased with 37 positive cases in four out of five schools,” she said. “With these gating criteria, we are currently in the yellow range. We have to see two weeks of improvement before we can change to the next range.”

Harwood set up the criteria in a green, yellow and red color scheme with green being 1% or less of a school building’s population testing positive or being in quarantine, yellow for 1.1 to 4% infection and quarantine rate and red for 4.1% or more.

“We may see a spike with people gathering for the holidays,” Harwood said.

Allowances for schools in the green zone include optional masking for staff and students, social distancing not required in most situations and field trips permitted. Also in this zone, visitors are permitted, but must mask up.

In the yellow or caution zone, social distancing of 3 feet is required as are masks in high-traffic and small group areas. Field trips are allowed with mitigation measures in place. Assemblies are also permitted if social distancing protocols are maintained. In this zone, masked visitors are allowed.

At the board meeting this month, Smithville Superintendent Todd Schuetz said he recommends sticking with current policy. It states those testing positive, regardless of vaccination status, should isolate for 10 days and then a mask should be worn through day 14 regardless. School board members Scott Haggerty and Len Matthies said the policy is excessive.

“There is room for improvement in this restrictive policy,” Haggerty said.

Despite discussion of the restrictiveness of the current policy, the board voted 7-0 to continue it at least until next month.

In the past several months, more than 100 people attended board meetings with several speaking for and against masking in Smithville schools. The November board meeting was no exception. Aaron Knight sent several emails to Smithville board members and administrators about studies and the “ineffectual use of masks.”

“It seems more like following whichever way the political winds are blowing,” he said at the recent board meeting about how masking policy is set.

Jay Pietkiewicz, who has also spoken in front of the board previously, praises universal masking mandates. He is currently upset with the board for its creation of a stepdown approach to masking. As a father of a child with health concerns, he wants to see masks required at all times.

“With masks, my daughter is able to go to school,” he said. “However, now the numbers are going up. Keeping our kids safe is all our jobs and you took that away,” he said of the gating criteria-based approach that, under certain conditions, would not require masks. “Shame on you all.”

Liberty School District

In Liberty, the school board met Nov. 16. While there was no action item on the agenda regarding possible changes to the universal masking policy in Liberty district schools, some of those in attendance took to public comment to address either being for or against the policy.

Some of those in attendance are part of the growing effort known as Liberty Parents for Liberty Public Schools. This pro-mask, pro-school board supportive group’s co-founder Beth Farr spoke about being strong LPS advocates as she has in the past.

“Thank you for the continuation of masks as infections are climbing,” she said.

Karen Botts, a mother of four and a member of the parent support group, spoke of acts of kindness the group is performing like writing letters of support for librarians and school cafeteria workers.

Matt Samech called out the Northland Parent Association for what he calls disruptive practices against masks, books and Critical Race Theory. The association is a group of parents that have protested and spoken out before, during and after school board meetings around the Northland.

“They are practicing kneejerk fearmongering,” Samech said.

Tammy McQueen said she is a parent of a high-risk child and she wants to leave the mask mandate in LPS schools in place. She also hopes to see more children get vaccinated. Dan Richardson also voiced his support of masks, stressing the examination of science.

Conversely, David Gilpin said he doesn’t see the efficacy of masks and made note of his daughter being chastised in school for not wearing her mask after she fell ill and vomited. The father believes long hours of mask wearing disrupts children’s overall well-being.

“I care about kids and their social, emotional and psychological health,” he said,

LPS board members did not discuss COVID-19 numbers in schools or the masking policy.

Southeast Editor Kellie Houx can be reached at kellie.houx@mycouriertribune.com or 389-6630.

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