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Festus parents ask district to change mask policy as kids return to school

District leaders decided to start the school year with a mask-optional environment, a choice that has some parents concerned about an outbreak.

FESTUS, Mo. — The doors at Festus Intermediate School have a reminder before for visitors before they open on a new school year: signs asking students and staff to "mask up." But a group of parents says what they saw at a recent open house at the elementary school across the street has them concerned ahead of the first day of school.

"There were a lot of parents, the students, some of the faculty not wearing masks," Rhonda Fehr said.

"I had only seen ten families in the whole building wearing a mask. Our principal wasn't even wearing a mask," Jenny Pugh said, backing up Fehr's experience.

Pugh says the mask issue is critical for her family because her daughter Kylie is immunocompromised, an 8-year-old who's already undergone 19 surgeries.

"I'm terrified to send her here," Pugh said.

Pugh is joined by other Festus parents who are worried about the virus' spread in a mask-optional environment, as the county continues a case spike that has returned them to the "red zone" for the first time since February.

Pharmacist Erin Gooch pulled two of her kids into homeschooling because they're too young for a vaccine.

"I feel very fortunate that I have an option for my children to keep them at home and to keep them safe, but I see parents that don't have that option," Gooch said.

Festus R-6 Communications Coordinator Kevin Pope says the back-to-school decisions from Aug. 11 are a "well thought out plan put together by the District leadership team. The plan includes benchmarks that if reached, could then require facial coverings on campus."

Pope further explained "the 1% district-wide benchmark would be approximately 35 students and staff. The 2% benchmark varies by the number of students and staff in each building."

Pope adds the district also outlined other mitigation strategies, like social distancing where possible and sanitization procedures, but the plan to enact mask requirements after hitting certain positivity benchmarks don't bring much comfort to Pugh.

"Why does she have to be a guinea pig?" Pugh asked, referencing her daughter's health.

For a list of St. Louis-area school districts and their mask policies, click here.