JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)
Students in the Jefferson City School District will have to wear masks indoors where social distancing isn't possible when fall classes begin next week.
Jefferson City Schools announced the decision Monday afternoon. The district released its back-to-school plans amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic earlier this month but said at the time a decision on masks would come Monday.
The district said the rules are based on recommendations from the Cole County Health Department and practices in place at other local schools. The mask requirement begins Tuesday. Masks will also be worn while entering the building and in common areas and on buses. Students who are in classrooms at least 3 feet apart can remove their masks.
Masks will also be required at this week's back-to-school open house events, the district said. Classes begin Aug. 23.
Many districts, including Columbia, spent large chunks of time last year in all-online mode because of high coronavirus case rates. In its announcement, the Jefferson City district touted its success as one of the largest in the state to remain in-seat throughout the year last year.
One set of Jefferson City parents told ABC 17 News before the announcement that they would pull their child out of school if masks were required.
Brittny Gibson and Jared Peyman have a 5-year-old son who will enter kindergarten this year. Both Gibson and Peyman say the mask decision should be up to the parents and not decided by the school district.
"If you want to put a mask on a child then do that and it will keep the child safe, but my kid's comfort in school should not be put aside for other people's inability to let it be ... I'm not asking anybody to put their kid in a mask, I'm not asking for anybody to tell me what I should do with my kid," Peyman said.
Gibson and Peyman originally disagreed about the decision. Gibson originally wanted to send her son to school regardless of the mandate, while Peyman did not. Both Peyman and Gibson decided the better option for their family would be to keep their son home.
Peyman said mask mandates and social distancing are also evidence that it is not safe enough to send his kid to school. Peyman said he believes masks and social distancing hinder children's ability to learn and socialize.
"If I am telling my kid to wear a mask, cover up and be different and stay away from other people, what is school for? School is for social interaction where children can learn to socialize in a public setting," Peyman said.
The World Health Organization recommends masks only for children 6 and older, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended universal mask-wearing in schools.
The district previously released its return to school plan in early August but chose to hold off on a final decision on masks because of rising COVID-19 cases.
Last school year students were required to wear masks until they were seated in their classroom. Thermal cameras were installed at each entrance to detect if a student or staff member had a fever over 100.4 degrees.
Some of JCSD's COVID precautions will be relaxed, according to the plan. For example, it will no longer monitor thermal cameras and check temperatures in the car line. However, masks will be required on buses, per CDC guidelines.
Cole County is ranked No. 28 among Missouri counties in most cases per capita over the past week. It has logged the third-most cases per capita over the entire pandemic.
According to the Missouri COVID-19 dashboard, the state has averaged nearly 2,000 new daily confirmed cases over the past seven days.
Although in-person learning is the priority, virtual learning through Launch will still be available to JCSD students.