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Masks optional at school, required on buses

Times Observer file photo At start of school year, masks will be required to be worn on school buses, but not in classrooms.

For now, Warren County School District plans to open up with a ‘masks optional’ policy.

However, the district may not have the ability to allow students not to wear masks while they are on buses or vans on their way to and from school.

At Monday night’s special meeting of the school board, Superintendent Amy Stewart summarized the district’s health and safety plan.

With respect to masks in school buildings, “The state is looking at the CDC,” Stewart said. “At this point, the CDC is recommending masks for unvaccinated individuals.”

‘Recommending’ is not ‘mandating.’

“Our plan is to make it optional,” she said.

Masks were the biggest point of contention when the district crafted its existing plan, Stewart said.

“We have to address universal and correct wearing of masks. As of June 28, students, staff, and visitors will not be required to wear face coverings in school.”

“In the meantime, we were informed by the Intermediate Unit that there is a federal order out there that we did not have our hands on,” she said. “The district will require masks… while riding school buses and vans.”

She said solicitor Chris Byham has examined it and “the order does apply to us.”

Some board members were concerned that some families would not send their students to in-person schooling due to that mandate.

Board member Jeff Labesky asked what would happen if the district simply did not follow the rule.

“They tell us that our state and federal funding is what they would hold over our head,” Stewart said. “I don’t know how they would enforce that.”

Board member Arthur Stewart suggested less direct opposition.

“I wonder if there are any other districts that have ideas of how you could find exceptions to this,” he said. “We have seen that students are better off when they come to school. We did all that we could to teach students in person. I don’t think that masks will prevent a lot of students from coming to school,” he said. However, “judging from the correspondence that we’re getting, it would prevent some students from coming to school.”

Amy Stewart said respondents to a survey conducted last year indicated that masks were a major factor in their decisions not to send their students to school in person in 10 percent of cases.

Arthur Stewart said he expects people to question why “my student can go to Walmart, they can go to church, they can go to the YMCA … they can even go to school without masks … but they have to get on the bus and wear masks for 45 minutes.”

Amy Stewart said quarantine rules have changed since the 2020-2021 school year.

“Last year, if a person tested positive and they were in a classroom, we were expected to contact trace,” she said.

If that process concluded that someone had close contact, they were to be quarantined.

“They didn’t care if anyone was masked or unmasked,” she said. “That has changed. If you were masked, you do not need to quarantine.”

Amy Stewart said she has not heard any suggestion that booster shots for the vaccine will be required or available nor whether there will be vaccinations made available for people under 12 years of age.

She said she plans to start her video series, which can be found at www.wcsdpar.org, again soon in order to help keep people apprised of situations as they arise.

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