BCLUW board reverses previous decision, will require masks in school

Robert Maharry
The Grundy Register

CONRAD- The BCLUW school board reversed course on a previous decision to encourage but not require masks in school during a special meeting on Thursday morning, citing the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases and a desire to avoid moving to virtual learning as reasons for moving toward a mask requirement.


Jody Anderson, whose daughter is a student at BCLUW, spoke first during the public comment period and told the board that he had “changed his mind” on face coverings due to concerns with virtual learning when his daughter was quarantined.


Superintendent Ben Petty reiterated his previous support for a mask mandate as a means of slowing the spread of the virus and lessening the need for quarantines according to new Iowa Department of Public Health guidelines.


“A mask mandate wouldn’t eliminate those things, but it would certainly bring that number down considerably,” Petty said. “It’s not just about quarantine. It’s overall about needing to think beyond ourselves. I want transmission rates down. I don’t want (school nurse) Gayle (Barkema) spending all of her time on this. I don’t want her and (high school principal) Jackson (Anderson) and others spending their Sundays dealing with this… There are all kinds of reasons I think this is an easy and quick decision.”


Barkema agreed with Petty and added that she has spent the vast majority of her working hours working on COVID related issues in recent weeks.


Mindy Ashton was the first school board member to offer her opinion and shared that she believed the original decision not to require masks was the correct one due to the positive feedback she had received from parents who thanked her for giving students a choice. She went on to argue that a survey sent to parents indicating over 60 percent support for a mask requirement used broad questions and was “misleading.”


She then raised questions of how a requirement would impact sports practices and athletes on the bench during games before asking parents to take responsibility for their children and whether or not they wear masks during school.


“If you feel that strongly about it, you should be making your kids wear them,” Ashton said. “If there were a lot of people that wanted us to require them, they would’ve reached out to us… There was time before that people could’ve been saying something, and they didn’t. We aren’t any worse off than any other school that did have (a mask requirement).”


Fellow board member Brian Feldpausch commented that while he believed that masks would work in a clinical theoretical study, he didn’t believe them to be effective when asking large numbers of people to wear them. He added, however, that the IDPH rule change—which stipulates that individuals who are in close contact with a COVID positive individual do not need to quarantine if all of the parties involved were wearing masks—persuaded him toward supporting a temporary requirement.  


“That was the game changer. With the comments I’ve heard from parents, it’s all about the quarantine. It’s not about health or stopping this. In that respect, the game has changed, and the rules have changed,” Feldpausch said. “If you gave me some tangible reason to change my mind, I’ll change my mind. That’s the tangible reason, (so) we don’t have to quarantine kids.”


Board member Adam Probasco, who was the lone supporter of a mask mandate at past meetings, said that he had received an “overwhelming” amount of support for his position and believed it was still the right decision.


“I feel like we should’ve done that from the jump. My opinion has not changed. We’ve got to do what we can to keep our kids in school,” he said. “I don’t wear a mask anywhere I’m not required to, but that’s probably going to change here. I think we know what we need to do.”


LJ Kopsa, who was ultimately the only board member to vote against the mandate this time around, lamented that the issue had divided the school district’s “communities, families and lives.”


“We’re in a horrible position here,” he said. “I’m glad we have a difference of opinion, and we can sit down here and try to come to an ultimate solution.”


Eric Engle was the last board member to speak and clarified his own opposition to masks on a personal level and governmental control of personal choices, along with his support for freedom of speech. He went on to note that his position had changed because of the spread of COVID-19, the rule change on quarantines, and the fact that some schools have indicated they won’t participate in athletic events with districts that don’t require masks.


“It’s an animal we’ve never encountered before,” Engle said.


Ultimately, Feldpausch’s motion to move to a mask requirement until January 20 or whenever guidance is changed again carried by a 5-1 vote, with Kopsa dissenting and Lynne Kock absent. Ashton inquired about the possibility of “mask free zones” as a reprieve for students and staff during the day, and Barkema clarified that only two-layered cloth masks, surgical masks, N95 masks and two-layered neck gaiters are considered acceptable according to IDPH guidelines. According to Barkema, face shields do not meet the outlined requirements.


The board did not take any action with regard to moving toward hybrid or virtual learning and will remain fully in-person until further notice.


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