Fatima R-3 school board will not require face masks moving into the new school year

BY Edward Gehlert, Staff Writer
Posted 8/27/21

Fatima school board members last Wednesday voted 4-3 against starting the school year with a mask mandate in place and will revisit the topic if the COVID-19 situation changes in the …

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Fatima R-3 school board will not require face masks moving into the new school year

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Fatima school board members last Wednesday voted 4-3 against starting the school year with a mask mandate in place and will revisit the topic if the COVID-19 situation changes in the district.

Voting against masks were President Doug Luebbering, VP Keith Huhn, Matt Robertson and Coby Holzschuh, while Susanne Massman, Andy Samson, and Jeffrey Winkelman were in favor of starting the year with masks.

Board members also agreed that the health department is the one responsible for handling all contact tracing. This policy will be reexamined as the need arises.

Eight parents opposed to the district implementing a mask mandate attended the meeting to voice their concerns. Board President Doug Luebbering informed those gathered that normally they have one or two speakers and asked how many people wanted to speak. 

“We normally have somebody be on the agenda, but since you’re not on the agenda we’re kind of open here if some of you want to say three to five minutes’ worth on what your position is,” said Lumbering. 

Superintendent Chuck Woody added, “Normally in this situation you have to be on the agenda. Everybody has varying viewpoints on COVID, we all know that; we need some public input.”

The assembled parents asked if the district planned on having a mask mandate to start the school year. 

“We want your input first,” said Massman. “We haven’t made an official ruling so we want to listen to you, as people of our district, about your stance.”

“My biggest problem is that masks don’t work,” said Rachel Lehmen. “The COVID virus is actually smaller than any surgical masks; you can look on the boxes. Even surgical cloth ... it definitely goes through. Our Osage County Health Department saying cloth or surgical is ridiculous because (the virus) is smaller than that. It’s actually smaller than surgical masks. It is the size of an aerosol and it goes through. So, if you line these kids up and you spray paint them they’re going to have paint on their faces just like the COVID virus is going through their masks. We just feel it’s more detrimental to these kids to be masked all day. My son’s a junior. I’m not here for him. I’m not here for my own selfish reasons. These little kids are learning how to speak, learning how to make sounds, and learning how to read; this is detrimental to them. Ongoing effects, not what we’re seeing today or tomorrow, but 10 years from now, we are going to see effects from these kids breathing their own mouth bacteria. Those masks, they also say they are only good for four hours, which of course, we know our kids wear them all day long, and half of them don’t change them. They are getting bacterial lung infections, their carbon dioxide levels are too high; there are so many things wrong with it. Also, when you look at other schools, other districts … I pulled up JC, Capital City, Blair Oaks, Helias, St. Joe … not one of them are mandating.”

“That’s not correct,” Woody clarified. “Jeff City is.”

“Nope,” Lehmen argued.

“I know for a fact they are,” Woody continued.

Lehmen told Woody to pull up their website. Woody responded that it may not be listed on their site yet but he knows they are.

“My wife works there,” Woody said. “That’s what they were told.”

“I talked to Ben Meldrum (Principal of Capital City High School) today and it’s where social distancing can not be … so hallways and in classrooms that may be too small, but most of them he said they were able to distance. Their actual website says where social distancing can not be maintained,” said Lehmen. “Do we know if there is one single student that’s positive right now? I don’t want to start the year and mask for eight hours when we don’t know that we even have one positive student.”

“On that note, is there a magic number?” Woody asked. “Say we start without them (masks) and then we have some. What would you guys suggest if we went that direction?”

“If we have a couple of cases and they’re all in elementary, okay we need to go ahead and mask first through fifth for a couple of weeks,” Lehmen responded. “Or guess what, we have some in elementary, some in middle school, some in high school; we’re going to need to mask for two weeks.”

“But is there a magic number?” Massman asked.

“No, I think that has to be common sense. Case by case,” said Lehmen. 

Huhn said, “It’s got to be thought through, right? You can’t arbitrarily pick a certain number. It may be classroom specific, it may be grade specific. The smaller grades, they’re in that room most of the day. The high school’s changing rooms all day long; it’s a lot different story.”

“But if masks don’t work, they don’t work either way,” said Lehmen. “I mean, nobody’s wearing a mask in here; well one. We’ve been in here for over an hour and somebody in here could have it. You’re not going to know.”

Lehmen told the board that there were three National Institutes of Health (NIH) studies that showed masks don’t work.

Massman informed the group that the county is specific on how operations are to be performed with and without mask mandates saying, “If you have a mask mandate, you do this. If you don’t, you do this. That’s where it gets sticky.”

Lehmen told Massman that the commissioner’s office was supposed to get a board together. 

“One person should not have the entire power over this entire county,” she said. “It is wrong. It is absolutely wrong.”

“You made a very valid point on the differences in masks,” said Woody. “We spent, as a district, a lot of money last year on masks. Where (the school board) is coming from they are completely right, it’s out of our hands and that’s what’s. These guys had to make a decision.”

Woody went on to say that classrooms would have to have a seating chart and that he would like to see the county do all the contract tracing.

“Every county is different, unfortunately,” he said. “I know Cole County was set up differently than we were. We quarantined a lot of kids last year through Osage County compared to Cole County. It’s out of our hands.”

One parent asked if the district had to listen to the Osage County Health Department and then stated that the organization was not a governing body.

“They are in control,” Woody replied. “They can come in and shut us completely down. Last year, we had what was called AMI-X, that’s when we shut down right before Thanksgiving, that’s not an option. As far as if we have a bad outbreak, we can’t shut school down. We can still go virtual with our kids, but we won’t close the doors, because if we close the doors we’re going to go up into June or something like that. You have to make those days up. Our hands are a little more tied than we would like.”

The Alternative Methods of Instruction-Extended (AMI-X) Plan allows districts and charter schools to continue to provide services either onsite or in an approved pattern of distanced instruction.

“It’s not quite as easy on us to make these decisions,” said Winkelman. “It’s not simple.”

“Their enforcement, if we had high enough positives, would be to just shut us down,” said Huhn.

“There’s no magic number,” said Woody. “(When) we hit 80 percent or less (attendance), I get really concerned from a financial standpoint. That’s my job. We get paid based on the number of rear ends in seats. The more times those kids are sitting here, the more money we’re bringing into the district. Last year and the year before COVID, it was rough. We want the kids here for multiple reasons. Number one, they need an education.”

“And if we have masks on, they don’t get sent home,” said Huhn.

Massman stated that somewhere it states that masks must be worn correctly and consistently.

“I have a problem with that because my son wears his under his nose,” said parent Dana Graham. “He gets headaches from (masks). Do I need to write a note? Because I can’t wear them, I have asthma. If he has it under his nose and he’s not coughing or sneezing on anyone, there’s no rhyme or reason. What I don’t want to see is he gets yelled at and told he has to go to the office if he doesn’t put it over his nose. I don’t think that should be. I think if a kid has it under the nose there’s a reason; they can’t breathe.”

Edie Reichel told the board that young students become easily distracted and questioned how much learning they are doing with masks in place.

“When we’re putting that distraction right in their face, how much learning are they really accomplishing?” Reichel asked. “I have four children and I know some of them eased through schoolwork and some of them do not. Those that are challenged with school work, the last thing they need is another challenge.”

Parent Stacey Rademan asked if each district in Osage County is doing the same thing.

Woody told Rademan that they had conferred with each other and the last time they had discussed it as a group, the plan was to start the school year without mask mandates.

A parent asked about the CDC’s guidelines on social distancing. Board members stated that guidelines from Osage County were three to six feet. 

“(Osage County) is pushing for six feet,” said Woody. “I know Jeff (Winkelman) discussed it with them today specifically and they said six feet.”

The CDC updated its operational strategy on March 19 to say that in “elementary schools, the CDC recommends all students remain at least three feet apart in classrooms where mask use is universal — regardless of whether community transmission is low, moderate, substantial, or high.”

Discussion arose concerning the difference between what the CDC has released and what the Osage County Health Department said.

“That’s the (Osage County Health Department’s) own guideline,” Lehmen said. “Osage County trumps the CDC. Kim Sallin told us last year at a district meeting she knows more than the CDC.” 

Parent  Angel Walters asked if waivers would be allowed in lieu of wearing a mask.

“What our school’s attorney said about that is, let’s say you and I are sitting side by side within that six-foot arrangement and there’s no way around it; you signed a waiver, but what did that do for me?” said Woody.

“You got a mask on,” said Lehmen.

“But she doesn’t,” said Woody. “So, I’m still quarantined.”

“If both people don’t have a mask, then both kids get sent home,” Huhn added.

“You can have some exemptions, like for asthma,” said Woody. “Our hands are tied. I don’t know where all of this is going. All I know is that there are certain things our hands will be tied to prevent.”

“We can’t ask your child ‘have you been vaccinated?’” Massman said. “My daughter said, ‘well I shouldn’t have to wear a mask, I’m vaccinated.’ I said, ‘are you going to wear a sign that says I’m vaccinated? They are not allowed to ask you.’ Chuck can’t ask my daughter that.”

“At what point does our school district and the other school districts in Osage County realize that this is a problem and we all need to go to the health department because that’s obviously where it’s going to have to be changed?” Lehmen asked.

Board members noted that all the public schools and the Catholic schools had a meeting with the health department last year and all of the districts were following the same guidelines.

Lehmen again said that she was told by the commissioners that they were going to create a board.

“Commissioners told us last year that they would make a board with a physician and a nurse and EMS and somebody from each school district,” said Lehmen. “That obviously never happened and so we still have one person making decisions for the entire county.”  

Luebbering asked if anyone else wanted to speak on the topic of mask mandates and no one responded. Woody thanked parents for bringing up their concerns to the board.

Woody advised parents before they left that more information would be posted on the district website the next day concerning the board’s decision on whether or not to start the school year off with a mask mandate.

In related news, the board approved 10 days of additional sick leave that would not count against the normal amount of sick days in the case of a faculty member contracting COVID. This is the same policy the district had in place last year.

In other business, Woody informed board members the district’s assessed valuation, minus new construction and improvements is $99,738,113. This is up from last year which was $94,567,733. The board voted to set the tax levy at $3.4210.

* The board voted to increase substitute teacher pay. The new daily rate for substitutes will be $100 and will increase to $115 after 10 days of accumulated substitute teaching. Long-term substitute pay will increase to $130 per day after 10 days of consecutive substitute teaching for the same teacher.

* Woody reported that a lot of school districts are having issues getting bread delivered and that he spoke with Darlene Fennewald at Joe’s Market and the district will be working with her to get bread.

* Woody reported that intruder training was to be held on Aug. 23.

* Woody reported that the fob swipe system is now working and that a buzzer component needs to be installed to open the second set of doors.

* Staff surveys will be discussed at next month’s meeting.

* Bills were approved totaling $197,871.07.

REPORTS

High School Principal Sharyl Kelsch reported current enrollment was 512 students, down from 529 last year. Kelsch said that they are very full with some classes being 30 and 32 students. Currently, five or six students are committed to being fully virtual.

* Kelsch advised the board that a trauma speaker spoke to her staff about strategies. She said that trauma can take many forms and even children whose parents had an amicable divorce are considered to have been through trauma.

The board accepted the resignation of faculty members Renee Ellingsworth and Carol Jones and hired Cindy Winter, Emily Schulte, and Elizabeth Backues for elementary, Cindy Winter as a Special Ed aide, and Caitlin Borgmeyer for Title I for Immaculate Conception in Loose Creek.

Assistant Principal Matt Verslues thanked the board for the amount of support he has received and that he was very happy to be at Fatima. 

* In his role as athletic director, Verslues noted there are currently 27 players out for softball and 29 for volleyball, 36 for soccer, and 23 for cross country, with 11 girls and 12 boys.

* Junior high basketball has 16 boys expressing interest while girls basketball has five. Verslues informed the board they were still looking for a basketball coach.

Curriculum Coordinator Janah Massman reported to the board that she is actively seeking a Parents as Teachers part-time employee due to a staff member retiring.

* MAP and EOC scores were received and were to be handed out at the open house. Teachers have already seen the scores.

Elementary School Principal Mellissa Wright reported that elementary enrollment was 259 students, which is seven more than the beginning of last year. 

* Wright welcomed new teachers Emily Schulte and Elizabeth Backues.

* Wright plans to continue the Comics with Kids (CWK) program. Students will still be able to earn “Comic Cash” to use to purchase various goods.

* The first part of the year will be spent on practicing classroom expectations, procedures, and routines.

* Elementary picture day will be on Sept. 8.

* Open House was held on Aug. 23.

Special Education Director Kristie Scrivner reported that the district was found in compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Scrivner advised the board that enrollment included 107 students with an Individual Education Program (IEP) and 25 students with a 504 Plan, which is a set of accommodations, or changes in the classroom environment to help a child follow the regular curriculum. It is less formal and involved than an IEP and does not change the instruction itself. For example, a student who uses a wheelchair but doesn’t need academic support would have a 504 plan.

Scrivner told the board that she will begin doing monthly department meetings with her staff.

* The next meeting is scheduled for September 15  at 7 p.m.

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