O'FALLON, Mo. — The brutal heat and federal mask mandate is sparking debate among parents, especially for families with children in the Fort Zumwalt School District.
Parents are upset about a bus driver who may have been fired for allowing kids to take off their masks on the bus. The issue arose during the late August heatwave. Temperatures during the first days of school soared into the 90s, which felt like the 100s factoring humidity in.
Fort Zumwalt Superintendent Dr. Bernard DuBray told 5 On Your Side the blazing heat was hard for all students, but especially the younger ones, "Particularly the little guys when they get off the bus, they're hot and parents react to that, but we got to get them home."
Even though they might be stuffy, masks are a must on the bus. There is currently a federal mandate requiring masks on public buses.
DuBray says both students and drivers are required to adhere to mandate and wear their masks, but that they can take breaks, "What I have always said is use some common sense, if kids need to pull their mask down to get a breath or take a little bit of a mask break, they can do that. But the majority of the time they're supposed to have their mask on."
5 On Your Side asked Superintendent DuBray about a post circulating on social media about a bus driver who said she was fired for allowing kids to not wear masks on the hot buses. DuBray said the employee was not fired, "she resigned."
Most Fort Zumwalt buses are not air-conditioned. Parents who commented on a since-deleted post were worried about a greater risk of heat exhaustion from wearing a mask.
Dr. Kenneth Haller is a Pediatrician with SluCare SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital he says the heat is hard, but the risk is low with or without a mask on, "There really is no evidence to show that kids have a problem with heat exhaustion or they are more likely to get it if they wear a mask. The mask covers a very small part of a child's face and body, they have plenty of other parts of their body in which they radiate heat."
In his time as Missouri Pediatrician Dr. Haller says heat exhaustion cases are usually related to outdoor sports, "I really have not seen heat exhaustion coming from kids who are in a hot classroom or on a hot bus, it really is from those kids who are outside, in the hot summer doing football training and things like that."
5 On Your Side did reach out to two school districts in very hot states to see how they manage, one in Austin and one in Phoenix. Both representatives said all district buses are conditioned to beat the heat. Superintendent DuBray says upgraded buses for our short-lived heat waves does not seem worth the investment at this time.