A rapid increase in positive COVID-19 cases and subsequent quarantines has prompted Warren County R-III School District to reinstate a mask mandate for its buildings. Board members met in emergency session on Sept. 2, voting 3-2 in favor of amending their criteria for mandating masks.
The district’s initial criteria for a mask mandate this year was if 3 percent of students tested positive for COVID. Board members changed that number to just 1 percent.
With this new threshold, face coverings were required at Black Hawk Middle School and Rebecca Boone Elementary, effective immediately. This week, both Daniel Boone Elementary and Warrior Ridge Elementary also exceeded the 1-percent threshold, leading to mask mandates that started on Sept. 8.
“The number of healthy students not being able to attend school because of quarantine is far too high,” explained Board President Ginger Schenck. “We want children in school but must also keep our eyes on the health and safety of both students and staff. We also need to work within the framework of what is required in regard to quarantining children.”
Schenck voted in favor of the change, along with Franci Schwartz and Deanna Zwyers. Board members Jeff Schneider and Rodger Tucker were opposed. Neither could be reached for comment prior to press time.
As of Sept. 3, the district has 34 students who have tested positive for COVID-19 and another 446 who are absent due to quarantine. Black Hawk Middle School, which houses 745 students, had 19 cases or 2.5 percent of their students testing positive. Another 215 students were absent due to quarantine as a result of close contact.
“We are required from the Warren County Health Department to quarantine kids for 10 calendar days if they were close contact and not wearing a mask,” said Klinginsmith. “We haven’t had great mask wearing and we’ve had several positive cases thus far.”
According to Klinginsmith, roughly 10 to 15 percent of students wore masks the first week of school. That number rose closer to 30 percent given the recent spike in cases.
“We were hoping for a more normal year, but it’s not starting out that way,” said Klinginsmith. “If we require kids to wear masks, hopefully that will keep more kids in school. We’re not only fighting the virus, but we’re trying to prevent quarantine as well. We’re just trying to make sure kids have an opportunity to come to school.”
Klinginsmith said the mask mandate will stay in place for the affected schools until the board votes to remove it. However, he said it still seems that most COVID cases are not being contracted on campus.
“What we’re really not able to see is, does this kid impact this positive case or are they connected to another case in the school? We really are struggling to find any connections between cases at school. Even with close contacts we’re not seeing much spread,” Klinginsmith commented.
Warrenton High School is the exception to the mask mandate. Given that all high school students have the option to receive the vaccination, the school board decided to exempt that campus location, following criteria from the Warren County Health Department.
“If you’re vaccinated, you do not have to quarantine at all,” said Klinginsmith. “We’re really strongly pushing for vaccination for high school students to keep them on campus.”
For those students confined to quarantine, learning could look different depending on each class.
“If the teacher is using the virtual platform and that’s available, a student would transition to that,” said Klinginsmith. “In the elementary buildings, it’s working on packets and reading that they would do normally. There are virtual options for some kids and some will be paper and pencil.”
The district will continue to monitor the situation at each building and adjust accordingly, Klinginsmith said. The board has its regular monthly meeting this Thursday at 7 p.m. at the school district central office on Veterans Memorial Parkway.
“I feel like the plan we have in place after (this last) meeting is fluid and addresses the changing numbers of COVID cases,” said Schenck. “It allows for adjustments if numbers rise or fall, and it takes into account local data. It also gives us room to re-evaluate what we are doing on a regular basis. It’s not perfect but it does allow us to react quickly to outbreaks in individual buildings before quarantine numbers skyrocket.”