MORGAN COUNTY, Mo. — The Morgan County R-II School District has implemented a mask mandate for all students, effective Nov. 17.
In a letter to district families, Superintendent Dr. L. Steve Barnes said the decision was made by the district board after hearing public input and a lengthy discussion. The decision comes after last week Gov. Mike Parson and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released new guidance to schools, in which close-contact quarantining may not be required if mask guidelines are adhered to.
Barnes' letter is below, followed by a list of FAQs put out by the district.
Last week Governor Parson and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released some new guidance on mask wearing as it relates to determining close contacts to a positive COVID case. In summary, schools with a mask mandate can use this new guidance to eliminate the need for close contact quarantine in some instances where masks are worn appropriately and meet the approved mask criteria (they must have two layers, face shields do not count). We have provided a link to more details on our various social media platforms and we encourage you to read through that information where you will find answers too many of your questions.
Due to this new guidance from the state and DESE, the Morgan County R-II Board of Education approved a mask mandate at our regular board meeting last night. This mandate will be for PreK -12th grade and will look very similar to what we are doing now in Category 2. In the event that we moved back to Category 1, with less restrictions, the mandate may remain in place, depending on the situation at that time.
I believe it is important that we all understand that the role of the board of education in this instance was to simply decide to put a mask mandate in place or not. After a lengthy discussion and input from the public they unanimously approved the mask mandate and it begins today. From there, the responsibility to quarantine using the new guidance from the State of Missouri and DESE is still at the discretion of the Health Department with the cooperation and input from the school district. Our administrators and nurses, alongside the health department, do their best to look at all the facts in each case and safely determine who will and will not be quarantined. That process will be no different. The new recommendations only provide addition options to consider when making those determination. I have advised our staff, when in doubt, to err on the side of caution and safety.
You will find many answers to your questions in the list of FAQ (attached and/or posted online) Please take some time to read through them. If you have additional questions do not hesitate to talk to your building leaders or contact me directly.
L. Steve Barnes
Frequently Asked Questions: Modified Guidance on Mask Use and Quarantine in K-12 Schools
1) What is the modified guidance involving mask use and quarantine in K-12 Schools?
On November 12, 2020, the guidance related to identifying close contacts in the school setting was modified. If the person diagnosed with COVID-19 and the close contact were both wearing masks appropriately during the time of exposure in the school setting, the close contact would not need to quarantine.
2) Does this recommendation apply to all K-12 Schools?
Yes, if the school has implemented a mask mandate, AND appropriate masks were being worn correctly by both individuals during the time of exposure in the school setting, the individual who came in contact with the person with COVID-19 does not have to quarantine at home.
3) Is a school mask mandate required?
No, school mask mandates are not required; the decision to require masks is made at the local level by school administrators and school board officials. However, schools must have a mask mandate for the updated guidance to apply to individuals identified as close contacts to a case at school.
4) What if a school does not have a mask mandate?
If the school has not implemented a mask mandate then close contacts in the school setting should continue to follow the previously established quarantine protocol, with close contacts quarantining at home for 14 days, regardless of mask use.
5) What is considered an appropriate mask?
Please refer to page 7 of the Missouri School Reopening & Operating Guidance.
6) What about other barriers such as face shields or desk shields?
The amended guidance is specific to the use of appropriate masks. Face shields or desk shields are not substitutes for the use of appropriate masks.
7) Does this apply to student and teachers?
Yes. The updated guidance includes students, teachers, and staff at K-12 schools.
8) What if the individual with COVID-19 is wearing a mask, but the close contacts are not?
The updated guidance only applies if the person diagnosed with COVID-19 AND the close contact were both wearing masks appropriately during the time of exposure in the school setting. Please refer to the visual aid “Wear a Mask. Stay in School.”
9) If students are seated 6 feet apart in the classroom, do they still need to be masked?
Persons seated greater than 6 feet apart would not be considered a close contact. However, there are many instances where teachers and students interact in the classroom and therefore, can result in the teacher and/or other students in the classroom meeting the criteria as a close contact and requiring quarantine. A school’s mask mandate that requires appropriate mask use at all times would ensure they are in compliance with the updated guidance.
10) Can the individual with COVID-19 return to class early if wearing a mask?
No. The individual with COVID-19 still must isolate and not return to school until the criteria is met for release from isolation.
11) Does the new guidance also apply to other settings, such as businesses?
No. The amended guidance is specific to the K-12 school setting.
12) Is this implementation of this new guidance mandatory?
The guidance establishes a minimum baseline for utilization by local public health authorities. Local public health agencies wishing to establish more stringent guidance for quarantine determinations, or follow standing CDC guidance within their jurisdiction, may choose to do so.
13) When does the implementation of this new guidance take effect?
The decision regarding the timing of the implementation of the new guidance is a joint decision of the local education authorities (LEAs) and the local public health agencies (LPHAs).
14) Can students currently under quarantine return to school?
Yes. If the school has a mask mandate and both the individual with COVID-19 and the exposed individual were each properly wearing an appropriate mask at the time that the quarantine determination was made, the student may return to school.
15) How can an LPHA verify students and staff were wearing masks appropriately when exposed?
Mask use should be part of the standard interview process for all COVID-19 cases identified among students, teachers, and staff at K-12 schools. The findings of the investigation (duration of close contact, mask use, etc.) will determine the identification of close contacts and recommendation for quarantine.
16) What is included as the school setting?
The school setting includes all classrooms, gyms, library, playgrounds, buses, etc.
17) What about exposures at lunch?
It is important to continue to ask questions and assess the opportunity for exposures for all cases. If an individual at school meets the CDC definition of a close contact and either the case or the close contact were not wearing masks, then the close contact would need to quarantine. Physical distancing continues to be an important mitigation strategy for schools, especially during times when students cannot wear their masks, such as meal times.
18) What about exposures during recess, PE, or activities such as sports, band, on the bus, etc.?
It is important to continue to ask questions and assess the opportunity for exposures for all cases. If an individual at school meets the CDC definition of a close contact and either the case or the close contact were not wearing masks, then the close contact would need to quarantine.
19) Are exposures that occur to students or staff wearing a mask outside of the school setting included in the updated guidance?
No. The updated guidance is specific to exposures that occur while in the school setting.
20) Are students and staff who are identified as close contacts to a case at school, but meet the modified guidance (proper masking), required to be in quarantine when not at school?
21) Can persons identified as close contacts but are not required to be quarantined, per the modified guidance, continue to participate in sports or other extracurricular school related activities?
The revised guidance only serves to exclude from quarantine those in circumstances in which the individual with COVID-19 and the exposed individuals were all properly wearing masks in the school classroom setting only; it does not exclude such individuals from being considered close contacts for sports or other extracurricular school related activities.
22) How do we explain to the public that mask use can be used in determination of close contacts in a school setting, but not for all others outside of a school setting?
The revised guidance is limited to determinations of close contacts in school settings only. Observational analysis of 8 months of experience with this novel emerging virus have shown for this age cohort in a school setting that given the overall advantages of in person learning for children, at this time in this setting, this is a reasonable approach.
23) What data supports this modification to in the guidance?
The infectious disease doctors working with DHSS and DESE on K-12 guidance provided some references related to transmission and masks on the final page of the Missouri School Reopening and Operating Guidance document.