Mask Rules Remain Controversial

New schools brings new discussions about masks

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Eli Dean, News & Sports Editor

With schools back in session this fall, the debates over how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic have once again shifted to classrooms and school board meetings, and as each school district creates and changes its own policies, the one thing that remains a keynote is masking.

At the beginning of the school year, Nixa Public Schools instituted a district-wide policy, stating that if 7 percent of the student body at one school is forced to be quarantined, masks would be required for a minimum of two weeks.

Dr. David Kelly, the Nixa High School principal, wants people to understand key facts about the policy.

“It’s not 7 percent of our students or staff that test positive, it’s quarantined,” Kelly said. “If we have one student in the classroom last year or one student here at school that was positive, you would have anywhere from 15-20 that would be quarantined as a result of that by the health department.”

Some believe it doesn’t do enough to protect students. “Nixa Public Schools has consistently taken a lower-level response when
compared to other local school districts in the area,” NHS parent Amy Fouse said. “I have reached out a number of times to offer assistance in thinking through the complexities of COVID-19 response — as I have experience at the Health Department working with a variety of organizations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — and respond to outbreaks have received thanks for my offers, but never anything beyond that.”

Fouse, who has two students at the high school, started a petition to require masks throughout the district, which as of Sept. 19 had 374 signatures, including eight teachers.

“Prior to the 2021-2022 school year, I reached out to Nixa Schools to express concerns about their decision to depart from the guidance of the CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics and local health organizations by making masking ‘optional’ instead of implementing universal indoor masking,” Fouse said. “It was evident through parent survey results that most parents were in favor or at least neutral to masking.”

In terms of statistics given by the district, there are many factors in how a school might potentially reach the 7 percent number that requires masks. Only one school in the district, John Thomas School of Discovery, had hit that number. That happened the week of Aug. 30, but it saw a sharp decline in quarantines, down to 0.35 percent for the week of Sept. 20. JTSD — the only K-6 school in the district — has a student body mostly under the age of 12, which is the minimum age for COVID-19 vaccines. Schools like Nixa Junior High and the high school that have student body members above the age of 12 have seen relatively low numbers throughout the year, with the two schools averaging out to about 0.9 percent weekly and never going over 1.83 percent, which was NJH for the week of Sept. 13.

Junior Michael Long believes the policy has worked as it was intended. “I think the policy is a pretty good
idea,” Long said. “We haven’t had very many COVID-19 cases or quarantines, so we haven’t needed to wear masks, which I’m glad for.”

Long, a vaccinated student, says he would mandate vaccines before masks.

“If I was in charge of mandates, I’d mandate vaccines,” Long said. “The Pfizer vaccine is FDA approved and we haven’t seen major side effects with most of the vaccines so far.”

In general, Long believes Nixa has done as much as it can to keep schools safe under the circumstances.“There hasn’t been much to do other than just hope that everything starts to get better,” Long said. “But I think Nixa has done a good job at dealing with all of this.”