Monett School Board confronted by residents
Masking mandate polarizes community
Members of the Monett School Board recently mandated students returning to seated classes wear masks for the initial two-week period in an effort to curb or quell any possible spread of COVID-19 and its more transmissible variant, Delta, which is three times more contagious than its Alpha variant.
Two weeks is also the incubation period following exposure to the virus for symptoms to develop.
“We want to ensure the safety of our students,” said A.J. Bahl, board president. “Remember, last year we started off with more than 300 quarantines. We’re only doing it for two weeks.”
However, a group of protestors converged on the regular August board meeting to voice their complaints and accusations regarding the precautionary measure.
With chants such as “tyrants,” rallying cries of “violations of my [American] freedoms,” “you’re not contact tracing my kid,” “masks gave my child asthma,” and accusations of not having the best interests of students in mind, more than 25 people continually interrupted the scheduled meeting, for which they were not on the agenda. The protestors vocally questioned board members on a decision made in a previous open meeting which they did not attend.
Bahl repeatedly informed the protestors that there was a protocol to follow and the board could not address their concerns in the open meeting, but he would meet with them between the open and closed sessions to discuss the matter.
The offer seemed to hold no sway with a majority of protestors who consistently interrupted the tendered offer, nor the explanation of Superintendent Mark Drake as to why the masking protocols were put in place, and at which points the positivity rates in the district or the community would trigger masking protocols during this second pandemic.
The decision, made by the seven-member board is two-fold.
First, the board wants to evaluate the outcomes of COVID contagion in surrounding districts that are not mandating masking as to the number of positive cases reported immediately following the first two weeks of school. A part of the reasoning for that is to take into account those students returning from vacations to areas of the country that may be “hot spots,” or who contracted the virus from a family member working in the public sector and passed it along to family members, including children, who then shared it with their fellow students.
Secondly, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status. Since children under 12 are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, CDC recommends they also wear a mask outdoors when in crowded settings and social distancing is not possible.
“I know there may be some on this seven-member board who agree with you,” Bahl said. “But we made this decision for the best interests of our students.”
“We made our decision based on CDC and local health department’s recommendations,” Drake said.
CDC also recommends schools maintain at least three feet of physical distance between students’ desks in classrooms. When combined with wearing face masks, this should help reduce any spread of COVID-19.
Until the pandemic is over, the CDC also recommends people wear masks when:
• Indoor ventilation is poor
• Large numbers of people are gathered
• People are singing or shouting
• When contact with other people is prolonged
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), also reports there is no evidence that wearing a face mask can cause or worsen asthma.
Data from a study presented at the 2021 AAAAI annual meeting found that wearing a face mask does not affect oxygen saturation levels, whether the wearer has asthma or not.
Wearing a mask can also help block asthma triggers such as common cold viruses, animal dander, pollen and cold air.
Following the meeting, Bahl commented on the disruptions.
“I have not had a meeting that was as difficult to maintain civility,” he said. “We will look at ways to improve this for board members and guests.”
“We will be having discussions to ensure something like that does not happen in the future,” Drake said.