Rob Busch

Edgewood-Colesburg officials are expected to discuss whether or not to lift the mandatory mask mandate for students and staff in the district at their April school board meeting.

According to Board President Dan Venteicher, the discussion is in response to requests from parents to eliminate the mandate and to, instead, make it optional.

“We usually wait to get a lot of our guidance from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) or the IDPH (Iowa Department of Public Health),” Venteicher said. “But a couple of us board members, I wouldn’t say we have been alarmed, but we have been surprised with how many parents would like to see this move from a mandate to a choice.”

Venteicher said complaints from parents include students’ glasses fogging up while wearing a mask to students having secondary problems as a result of the masks.

“Discussion has stemmed from schools like North Butler dropping their mandate. But also, as a board, we had an entrance plan at the beginning of the pandemic how this was all going to work, but we’ve never had an exit plan. So we are just trying to lay some eyes on it and see what our exit strategy could look like.”

Board member Matt Elliot posed the question on his Facebook page about making masks voluntary instead of mandatory. Late last week his question had generated over 70 responses, with most respondents supporting voluntary mask usage.

Venteicher said he has heard strong opinions from both sides. “We have had parents who say if we don’t end the mandate they will send their kids to another school, yet on the other side, we have had parents say if the mandate is dropped they will send their kids somewhere else. So at the end of the day, we aren’t under the impression we will make everyone happy. But our main focus here is to do what’s best for students.”

That split is also found among Edgewood-Colesburg staff members. Venteicher said a survey to staff sent by Superintendent Rob Busch came back at a 50-50 split.

Venteicher acknowledged communication from Delaware County and Clayton County Public Health officials who recommend continuing with the mask mandate. Venteicher said he believes the board should try to look at things more on a district level.

“Many districts around us went virtual or partly virtual but we were in our buildings the entire year. So at the end of the day, we are taking into account what the IDPH and CDC say but had we just done what everybody else did, we probably would have had a lot of our school year virtual. We are just trying to do what’s best for our little garden corner of the state.”

Venteicher admitted how quarantine rules that would affect students should masks become voluntary will be a factor in any decision. “Our hands may be tied with that. Our impressions from our attorneys or other public health officials are that if the mask mandate is lifted, we may have to adjust our quarantine guidelines. The last thing we want to do is take an athlete or an athletic team from our district who is doing well, and because we lifted the mask mandate, we put their athletic career in jeopardy. If lifting the mask mandate would jeopardize athletes or other student groups, I seriously doubt we would lift it.”

Busch believes the mandate should remain in place and said he will recommend so at the April meeting, citing advice from the school’s law firm, Ahlers & Cooney. “Our law firm gave the opinion that public health has the authority through Governor Kim Reynold’s proclamation and said we could become liable if we don’t keep the mask mandate in place.”

In their opinion to the district, Ahlers & Cooney said, “School districts should continue to require masks in order to preserve the COVID-19 “safe harbor” for liability purposes and to maintain compliance with public health guidance. Local public health has statutory authority to implement rules and regulations consistent with state orders.”

Busch said he just wants to keep as many people safe as possible, and while acknowledging people are tired of wearing them, believes masks need to remain. “We want an end date, but where are we at? Are we at the 10-yard line, the 20-yard line? It seems to me we need to wait to see what the numbers will dictate to us. Nobody likes wearing masks. It’s not something we want to be doing. But we just want people to be safe and we want to continue face-to-face learning. And it seems to be working right now.”

Venteicher said if the mandate isn’t lifted at the April meeting, the discussion would move forward to when the mandate could end. “Can we even set a deadline? I know some of our board members are adamant, if we can’t do anything this spring, we do want to pursue trying to figure out what school in the fall looks like.”

Venteicher believes the April meeting is a good time to discuss the issue. “We didn’t have a lot on our agenda and if we start discussions now, we get everybody thinking about it. We do have questions and requests from parents about ending it. So we just want to make sure the people who have questions know we are hearing their concerns and are considering what they are asking. I know it’s a hot button topic, but I just want everyone to know we are considering all sides both for and against.”

The meeting is scheduled for Monday, April 12 at 6 p.m. at the high school.