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SMITHVILLE — While the school district has already been determining whether to require masks in school facilities on a monthly basis based on gating criteria that includes active case counts, after Christmas break, masks will no longer be required in Smithville schools. Masks will continue to be recommended however, especially for those not vaccinated against COVID-19.

“We are estimating that 60% of the high school students are fully vaccinated at this time,” Schuetz said.

At a special, virtually-held meeting, Monday, Dec. 13, the Smithville Board of Education met to discuss protocol changes in light of the district receiving a cease and desist letter from the state’s attorney general’s office regarding masking and other COVID-19 safety procedures.

At the meeting, Superintendent Todd Schuetz said he is recommending masks be worn in school when students return for the new semester Jan. 4, but they will not be a requirement as long as Clay County Public Health continues not having a countywide mandate in place. The county public health board will meet Thursday, Dec. 16, to discuss its recommendations for masks in school.

While masks may no longer being required, the district urges students and staff to maintain social distance whenever possible, wash hands frequently and stay home when sick.

“School districts have been miniature health departments for more than 18 months,” Schuetz said. “We also have been judge and jury to make these decisions and it’s very challenging on our staff. Our job is ultimately to keep kids in school so we are turning quarantine responsibilities to the health center.”

As of Jan. 4, if a student or staffer does test positive for COVID-19, he or she will still not be allowed in class or to participate in school activities for 10 days, which is the same as before the holiday break.

Denise Harwood, director of student services, said the district will also continue to monitor students and staff for minor and major COVID-19 symptoms such as loss of smell or taste, difficulty breathing and a temperature over 100.4 degrees.

Harwood explained the district will continue to follow board policy EBB, which focuses on communicable diseases that “pose a risk of transmission in school or at school activities (such as, but not limited to chicken pox, influenza and conjunctivitis).

“(They) will be managed as required by law and in accordance with guidelines provided by the Department of Health and Senior Services and local county or city health departments. Such management may include but is not limited to exclusion from school or reassignment as needed for the health and safety of students and staff,” reads the policy.

While COVID-positive cases will be excluded from school for 10 days, close contacts will be notified and asked to monitor for symptoms. Effective Jan. 4, students and staff members who are identified as a close contact of a positive case within the school environment will no longer be required to quarantine. However, should a close contact develop symptoms, they will be excluded from classrooms and activities until symptoms resolve.

“Masks on buses are still part of the federal mandate and that is through March,” added the superintendent, clarifying that while masks in schools are optional, masks will continue to be a requirement on buses.

Board Vice President Sarah Lamers said easing masking restrictions requires the need to be able to trust district families.

“As we let up on these guidelines Jan. 4,” she said, “I am hoping that those 5 to 12 (years old) will get their vaccinations.”

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

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