With new guidance released by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds Sept. 28, PCM as taken the step to require face masks on at all school facilities. The mandate was approved Oct. 1 at a special school board meeting and took effect the next day, Oct. 2.
“PCM has had a relatively low incidence rate of positive COVID-19 in our schools,” superintendent Michelle Havenstrite said. “Since the start of the school year, we have had three positive cases in our schools. However, these three cases resulted in 40 healthy staff and students being placed in a 14-day quarantine.”
With the new guidance by the governor, if masks are worn by both the infected person and those in close contact, no quarantine will be needed for those not infected. Close contact is defined as when a person has been within six feet of the COVID-19 positive individual for 15 minutes.
“My goal since I have arrived is to keep students in a safe, face-to-face learning environment and to allow them to participate in their daily activities as much as possible,” Havenstrite said. “By implementing and enforcing a face mask requirement, we will be able to keep healthy students and staff in our schools and participating in school-sponsored activities.”
Guardians and faculty were notified by email Thursday evening of the change, but a glitch caused the message to be held up for more than two hours. The district also posted the information on its Facebook page and website.
Not all masks worn previously are approved for the new mandate. Neck gaiters, bandanas and masks with valves will not count as appropriate face coverings to avoid quarantine if there is a positive case. Masks that cover the nose and mouth and are secured with straps that loop over the ears or tie around the back of the head are accepted. According to the school’s protocol, the masks may be factory-made, sewn by hand or machine or created by using materials cut, or constructed, from household or clothing items like scarves, t-shirts, sweatshirts or towels. These clothing items in their original forms are not themselves acceptable face coverings for use in district facilities and are not acceptable substitutes for the types of face coverings approved for use on school district premises.
Masks have also been ordered for students who may have forgotten one and mask donations are also being accepted by the school.
An often heard concern, students will not be required to wear a mask all day long. There will be “mask breaks” put in place for students and staff throughout the day including during recess and lunch.
“This is not healthy or reasonable. Each building and classroom will be establishing protocols for mask breaks, recess, PE, etc. However, it is critical that face masks be worn when we are in close contact with each other to avoid exposure and quarantine,” Havenstrite said.
Another point brought up concerning requiring masks is punishment for students who do not follow the protocol. Havenstrite said there is a difference between forgetting and outward defiance when it comes to dealing with mask-wearing.
“Each of these situations will be addressed differently and appropriately by our school staff. Parents will be notified if students are being defiant and refusing to mask up and a plan will be put in place to address the issue,” Havenstrite said. “It is critically important to remember that when a mask is not worn, we are putting healthy students and staff at risk of a quarantine. We need everyone to do their part in keeping our PCM students in a face-to-face learning environment and participating in the school-sponsored activities they enjoy.”
Along with the regular school day, masks are now required at all school-sponsored activities. From football and volleyball games to extra-curricular clubs and meetings, masks must be worn by those attending.
Even with masks now required, the district will continue to use additional mitigation strategies to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Frequent hand washing, sanitizing surface, social distancing and encouraging staff and students to stay home if they aren’t feeling well are still being used within the schools.
As with most things associated with COVID-19, dealing with the pandemic is ongoing and evolving. The district will continue to follow guidance from the governor, Iowa Department of Public Health and Iowa DE through this time. If any changes are made, the school will adapt accordingly.
Havenstrite said she knows this will be a change for the students, staff and parents but she reminds everyone the school is a learning organization dedicated to education. Implementing the new procedure will take some time and education and the district will work with all of those involved to educate and collaborate during the transition.
“Thank you for your ongoing support and understanding. Please continue to remember we are in unprecedented times and we are doing the best we can to keep kids in school. I do realize this is a quick change ... but please be assured that we will be working collaboratively with all during this transition. As always, should you have any questions, please feel free to contact your student’s building administrator or myself.”
Contact Jamee A. Pierson at 641-792-3121 ext. 6534 or email@example.com