(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) On a 5-2 vote, the St. Joseph School District Board of Education voted to immediately end its mask mandate for staff and students Monday night.
The issue was not originally on the board's agenda for their meeting but was added as a last-minute amendment. Board member Rick Gilmore made the motion to add the mask mandate as a discussion item.
Board members LaTonya Williams and Lori Witham were opposed saying the public deserved more advanced notice.
Last month, the board voted 6-1 to continue to require the use of masks by staff and students in its facilites until Covid test positivity rates in Buchanan County fell below five percent for two consecutive weeks. The county's current positivity rate sits at 5.14 percent, according to the City of St. Joseph Health Department.
Gilmore said that if the mandate continued the board needed to develop another measurement to use to determine when the mask requirement should end. He said that using the positivity rate was flawed because a different number of people take the Covid test every week and that it will be difficult to ever get below five percent. He said that as the pandemic wanes fewer people will get tested meaning that even fewer positives would be needed to put the positivity rate above five percent.
Board president Tami Pasley, who voted with the majority said she understood that the mandate had always been divisive, but that it was time to move on.
"A lot of teachers will say this makes me nervous, I get that," Pasley said shortly after the vote. "But, I have also heard from a lot of teachers who have said it's time. So, this issue has always been a 50/50 issue, 50percent of the people want masks, 50 percent of the people in our area don't want masks."
Board members stressed that while the mandate has ended any staff member or student who wants to continue to wear masks are encouraged to do so.
Even though the mandate has ended in the schools and in other SJSD facilities, federal regulations will still require masks to be worn on school buses.