Osceola school district will return to pre-COVID procedure for fall 2021

The mask policy developed by the Osceola School Board for summer school — masks optional but encouraged — has worked so well it will continue in the new school year.

Sup. Mark Luebker briefed the board about the reopening plan for the 2021-22 school year, which will return almost all school protocols to pre-pandemic norms. Mask wearing procedure was a major point of contention within the district for much of last year. After requiring masks for the duration of the 2020-21 school year, the board voted this spring to make masks optional for summer school. That ruling will continue for the upcoming school year. 

“We do recommend that masks be optional for the students, staff and community members for the start of the 21-22 school year,” Luebker said. “We do encourage facial coverings for those that choose to do so, and obviously we take that as a choice for people to make.” 

This summer, the district distributed a survey to both parents and school employees regarding the mask policy, and the results overwhelmingly supported masks being optional for the coming school year. Around 85% of respondent parents recommended maintaining the optional policy that was implemented for summer school. That sentiment was echoed by school staff, 80% of whom said they were in favor of optional masks. 

Most other COVID precautions including distancing measures, precautionary signage and the lack of access to drinking fountains will also return to pre-pandemic levels. However, the school will continue to provide a sanitation station in each classroom and staff will continue to wipe down classrooms after each class. Another COVID measure that will remain for the foreseeable future is mask mandates on buses and other school transportation. 

“Face coverings are still required on busing as per the TSA and the Department of Health Services requirements,” Luebker said. “We followed that during summer school and things went well.” 

Some on the board questioned the sense of making children who’ve spent all day together without masks put them on once they get on the bus, but Luebker was clear that the ruling would be followed and Osceola school district business manager Lynette Edwards said disregarding the rule could result in serious consequences. 

“We checked with our insurance company as well on the liability issue for districts who chose not to follow (the mask requirement on buses),” she said. “And we were told under no circumstances were we to disregard a federal law.” 

There will still be procedures in place should a student test positive for COVID-19 during the school year. 

“In a positive test situation we would isolate for ten days from symptom onset,” Luebker said. “We would recommend contact tracing be limited to household members. Unvaccinated family members would be quarantined under protocol, but vaccinated and symptom-free families could return and do not need to quarantine.” 

Board president Brooke Kulzer took issue with the contract tracing recommendations. 

“We heard so much about face masks in April and May, and summer school went off without a hitch, but now we’re not doing the tracing either and that worries me from a nursing standpoint,” she said. “The problem with this virus is you don’t have any symptoms for five days, so if my first grader is sitting next to another first graders who gets tested and is positive, I don’t want to willingly send my first grader back and continue spreading it.” 

Luebker said school administration talked about the issue at length, but decided that keeping students home based on contact tracing last year had a severe impact on uninfected student’s education.

“We understand the need to quarantine those that’re positive,” Luebker said. “But we were excluding so many kids based on contact tracing that didn’t show any signs or symptoms and that did not become positive, it really became a negative factor academically. Some kids were quarantined two or three times.” 

However, Luebker said all of these protocols could change in the future should the pandemic worsen in the area. 

“It could be an ever evolving plan,” he said. “We do plan to have updates at our regular board meetings.” 

Several parents praised the board for their handling of the pandemic during public comment. Dr. Therese Durkin addressed the board last. She said while she’s appreciative of the in-depth reopening plan, the district will still face difficult situations in the coming months. 

“I want to say good luck to everybody,” she said. “I think it’s going to be hard probably for the next two months. Whatever we can do to minimize infection is a good idea — people who wear masks should at least be encouraged, not discouraged.” 

She said some resources that were available during the height of the pandemic last year might no longer be an option, which could also complicate things like getting a COVID test. 

“My impression is there’s less available testing than there was last year, so keep that in mind when you want a test,” she said. “It’s just a lot easier to be vaccinated.” 

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