ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. — Fort Zumwalt, the largest school district in St. Charles County, is going back to a mask-optional policy.
That means the temporary mask mandate for students and staff lasted for less than a month.
Fort Zumwalt schools started the 2021-2022 school year with mask-optional.
MASK MANDATE OVERTURNED
The decision to overturn the mask mandate happened Tuesday night in a sweeping 6-0 vote by the Board of Education.
Plus, the board has adopted a modified quarantine program.
It allows students who wear a mask at the time of exposure to continue attending classes as long as they monitor their symptoms for the next 14 days.
The quarantine time can be cut down to a week, if the student doesn't have symptoms after five days and received a negative test.
Students in the modified quarantine program aren't allowed to participate in any extra-curricular activities during this quarantine time.
Plus, the board's new plan has tiered levels of mitigation strategies.
- Any classroom Pre-K through 5 showing an increase of three cases over 14 days, students and stuff are required to wear masks for two weeks following the most recent positive case
- Plus, schools with more than 2% of students testing positive for COVID-19 need to implement more mitigation strategies, including mask wearing while in the school building, but outside of classrooms and offering more lunch periods to allow for social distancing - strategies would remain in place until the number of students testing positive can return to below 2% for 14 consecutive days
- If the number of students testing positive reaches 4%, students and staff are required to wear masks at all times while inside school buildings - this would stay in place until the number of students testing positive returns to below 2% for 14 consecutive days
At one point, the district had 350 students in quarantine toward the beginning of the year.
Back in early September, Westhoff Elementary had 27 students test positive, resulting in 99 quarantines. The school has 524 students.
Right away, Dr. DuBray required Westhoff to wear masks.
On Sept. 20, 2021, the board voted to place a mask mandate.
When the mandate was implemented, there were 139 students with COVID-19 with more than 300 students in quarantine.
The number has dropped down to more than half.
As of Wednesday evening, there are 53 students with COVID-19 and 124 students in quarantine. Dr. DuBray says this is a positive rate of .003%.
The district has about 18,000 students.
Superintendent Dr. Bernard DuBray explained the decision.
"Since that time, the numbers have been going down," he said. "Our numbers are really low. I don’t think there’s any doubt the masks helped, but I do think in general, the numbers are moving in a positive direction everywhere. Sure the masks help, but I don’t think that’s the only reason."
He added, "I think they (the board) constantly keep their finger on the pulse of community and they felt the numbers were justified for a change. With the tiers, I don’t think there’s a reason to change again. The numbers are low, but if they start spiking, we already know what to do with it."
As far as getting input from parents and staff, the district sent out a survey on Sept. 27.
The feedback was released on Oct. 4.
The survey of 10,900 households was split down the middle.
For parents, 50.36% voted for masks to be required, while 49.64% voted masks optional.
As for teachers, 50.9% voted for masks optional with 49.1% voting for mask requirements.
In comparing school years, Dr. DuBray says this 2021 has been harder than 2020.
"This year is more difficult because of the division of opinions," he said.
The St. Charles County Parent Association is a non-profit organization and an organizer says, they are happy with the news.
In a statement, they say:
"While the Saint Charles County Parents Association is pleased that the mask mandate was lifted for our Fort Zumwalt children, we have a long way to go in restoring the freedoms and liberties for all the children in Saint Charles County."
Yet, for some, this new policy isn't the greatest news.
Amanda Williams has three kids in the district.
Her 6-year-old got COVID-19 recently. With the exception of one, her household of five got infected with the virus.
"My 6 year old got hit hard. I took video and pictures to document how sick my son got. He pretty much had every symptom that you would have with COVID," she says.
This is the reason why Williams wants a mask mandate.
She doesn't want any other student to face this.
"I don't understand why we can't be proactive and prevent it altogether," Williams said.
Michelle Buckley is a mom of two girls at Westhoff Elementary.
She's been asking her little girls to wear a mask from the beginning because some of their family members are high risk.
"Our school had over 100 kids out a week in September. I don't want that to be happening again, having to keep my kids home while I'm working, so I'm trying to do everything I can to keep them safe," Buckley said.
The Board of Education says the overall goal of this new plan is to limit transmission of the virus while allowing as many students to be in school as possible.
The new rules will go into effect on Friday at 4:30 p.m.