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School districts reevaluate mask policies as students head back in-person

Several school districts either kept masking required or reversed their optional masking policy back to a requirement.

ST. LOUIS — Over the course of the pandemic we've seen district leaders require masks, make them optional or go back and forth between the two.

Thousands of students in the St. Louis area went back to school this week.

George Sells with St. Louis Public Schools says they've stayed consistent.

"We started out saying everybody wears a mask and that's the same rule today," he said.

St. Louis Public Schools started the 2022 spring semester with the same masking guidelines from the beginning of the pandemic.

"If you're in one of our buildings, you're wearing a mask," Sells said. "Teacher, student, volunteer, visitor anybody else."

Sells said they've provided resources for students and staff, preferring they wear a medical-grade mask instead of a cloth one based on local health leaders' recommendations.

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"We have got about 4,000 N95 masks that we just got in that we're making available to anyone who needs them. Obviously, we would like to see people using the best quality mask that they can," Sells said.

"In many of our scenarios, due to the close proximity of students, a mask is better than no mask," EducationPlus CEO Paul Ziegler said.

Ziegler works with 60 school districts in the St. Louis area to share ideas on how to mitigate COVID-19.

"I think we've all come to the conclusion that we really want kids in an in-person environment. We think learning is better there for the majority of our students," Ziegler said.

Hazelwood and Ferguson Florissant School districts are requiring masks until further notice. 

Lindbergh Schools extended universal masking at least until January 19th. 

Kirkwood Schools reversed their optional mask policy back to requiring masks.

"What I think will be different as we see this surge and the transmission continue to be on the rise is you may see buildings that vacillate and go into a mask scenario where they haven't been in the past," Ziegler said.

With pediatric cases on the rise, Sells echoes health officials saying masking and vaccinating eligible children are the safest practices.

"Masks make a big difference as far as keeping people from becoming infected," Sells said.

Two SLPS elementary schools, Ashland and Bryan Hill, started virtual this week because of the number of staff impacted by COVID.

Sells says the plan, for now, is for those students to return back in person on Monday.