116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Masks are required to be worn by College Community students and staff in kindergarten through sixth grade in a move unanimously approved Monday by the school board.
Board President Randy Bauer said he personally is not in favor of a mask mandate. “But we need to protect those young kids,” he said. A COVID-19 vaccine has not yet been approved for children under 12 years old.
The school board will vote on a recommended end date on the mask requirement during its meeting next month.
As of Sept. 16, the district reported 64 students and staff actively positive for COVID-19, and 117 in quarantine from exposure. Forty-one of those students who tested positive are in prekindergarten through sixth grade, which is the population of students not yet eligible to be vaccinated. There are over 5,700 students in the College Community School District.
There have been over 100 more positive COVID-19 cases this month than a year ago, in September 2020, Superintendent Doug Wheeler said. Students have lost a combined 1,176 instructional days from testing positive, and 2,090 days from quarantining from exposure, Wheeler said.
Bus routes have been reduced because of staffing shortages since the start of the school year, and between 5,000 and 7,000 masks have been handed out on school buses per week since the start of the year. Masks are required to be worn on school buses because of a federal mandate that requires them on public transportation.
The decision comes after a federal judge issued an order last week preventing enforcement of a state law barring schools districts from requiring masks. The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by parents of children who suffer medical conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19.
Cedar Rapids and Iowa City school districts reinstated mask mandates last week, and Linn-Mar reinstated a mask requirement for PK-6 students.
School board member Jim Hodina, who retired last month from Linn County Public Health after 15 years, said once someone is vaccinated it should be that person’s decision whether to wear a mask.
“I’m worried about students who can’t get vaccinated, and they’re in a classroom with people who may be infected with COVID,” Hodina said.
“The big numbers to me are the lost school days,” he continued. “We have certainly heard from a lot of parents when we were in hybrid or online learning how hard that was on students. That’s something that really weighs on me today is if kids cannot be in school because they are in quarantine or isolation.”
Many schools adopted hybrid learning last year where students went to school in-person 50 percent of the time and learned from home online the other 50 percent to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
The board is not in favor of keeping students and staff in masks “indefinitely,” school board member Dawn Kousheh said.
During an hour of public comment about masks, 21 people spoke against a mandate and four spoke to require masks.
Angela Patterson is a teacher at Prairie Creek Intermediate School and parent of a seventh-grader in the district. In her classroom, about 14 out of 43 students wear masks, and of those wearing a mask only eight were wearing them correctly over their nose and mouth, Patterson said.
“As a district employee, on behalf of many employees in our district, and as a parent representing so many in the community please give us the freedom to choose whether we want to wear a mask or not,” she said.
Jason Schunter, a repertory therapist and parent of students in the district, asserted that masks “cause depression and suicide ideation.” His 17-year-old son has “pandemic-induced depression,” he said.
Schunter also claimed masks “enable learning disabilities” by inhibiting elementary students from seeing facial expressions when a teacher is talking. A mask can cause glasses to fog up, can impede line of sight and make it harder to hear, Schunter asserted to the board.
Stefanie Munsterman-Scriven is one of four people who spoke in favor of a mask requirement as a parent and as executive director of the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission. Munsterman-Scriven said it’s important for students to wear a mask since the majority are not yet eligible for the vaccine.
Between Sept. 6-10, Munsterman-Scriven’s family was notified of three separate times her daughter was a close contact with someone who tested positive. A close contact is anyone who has been within 6 feet of an unvaccinated, unmasked person for more than 15 minutes.
Her daughter was given the choice to quarantine for 10 days and later tested negative for the virus, but the close contacts limited her ability to attend school, Munsterman-Scriven said.
“Our responsibility as a community is to protect our students and provide a safe space for them to learn,” Munsterman-Scriven said. “Children should not fear attending school.”
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