(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) A St Joseph School Board meeting was dominated by parents and people who spoke out against the district masking policy, saying parents — not the district — should decide if children wear masks in school.
A partial mask mandate was considered by the Board but failed to get a majority of members to support it. Earlier this month, the Board voted for a temporary mask mandate for all students, teachers, and staff for the start of the 2021-22 school year but vowed to reconsider the issue on a monthly basis.
More than 130 people attended the school board meeting Monday at Troester Media Center. The district moved the meeting from its small conference room to TMC to accommodate the crowd.
The school board and staff wore masks during the meeting Monday but most of the crowd flat out refused. Superintendent Doug Van Zyl asked the group to follow the mask policy and then approached each individual with a mask from the district’s supply. Less than a dozen took a mask and fewer put one on.
At least 10 people signed up to voice their opinions on St. Joseph schools’ current mask policy. The first to speak was Joshua Blevins. He, as well as most of the speakers, started by thanking the board for their work and acknowledging they had a tough decision to make but said he thought they got it wrong.
Blevins' told the Board he didn’t think the decision they made was based on evidence.
“My main emphasis was to encourage the board to make merely emotionally based decisions but factually based decisions because it affects both a lot of different people’s freedom to choose and the health decisions parents make for their children,” he said after the meeting. “I’m not opposed to sacrificing a freedom to really help people but I’m not willing to sacrifice a freedom based on evidence that doesn’t exist, or a political reason, or to be politically expedient.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics have stated that children age 2 and older should wear masks to limit the spread of COVID-19.
While most of the speakers, and attendees, were asking the Board to change the policy, a few spoke in favor and asked the Board to keep it.
One of the speakers was Meghan Casias, who works with students with special needs at seven different schools across the district.
“I do think it’s important that we protect all of our students,” she said. “I feel like a lot of people who are advocating for the choice for masks are not considering our high need students.”
Casias told the Board that if they give students the choice not to wear masks, they would be forcing many of the students with special needs or medical conditions that compromise their immune systems to go virtual. With that in mind, she asked the Board, “So are we really giving students a choice or are we segregating our special education community?”
Following all of the speakers, a motion was made by board member Rick Gilmore, and seconded by Kenneth Reeder, to alter the current district-wide mask mandate to a district-wide mask mandate that only applies to common areas and not classroom settings. Gilmore and Reeder were the only two members to vote for it.
The district is set to reconsider its mask policy on Sept. 13 and SJSD staff will provide data from the first three weeks of school to help the Board make its decision.