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Citing updated guidance from the Iowa Department of Public Health and the Iowa Department of Human Services, the West Delaware School Board unanimously agreed to make masks optional for the remainder of the 2021 school year during a Special Board Meeting, at Lambert Elementary, May 15.

After the meeting was called to order, Superintendent Dr. Kristen Rickey read a prepared statement, saying, “Since the beginning of the pandemic, information has been rapidly changing and there have been strong opinions on much of it. Our school has based our decisions not on opinions but guidance and requirements from the Iowa Department of Public Health, the Iowa Department of Human Services, and the Iowa Department of Education,” Rickey said. “Our goals have been to keep students in school safely and to avoid the risk of quarantine.”

“Our requirements early in the year required quarantine for exposure regardless of masks,” added Rickey. “That changed to remove quarantine orders if both parties were masked. Friday afternoon we received new guidance, which I will read:

‘Our response today does not, and should not look the same as it did a year ago. In fact, yesterday the CDC announced updated guidance rolling back mask usage for adults. Our guidance is evolving as we learn more information. This evolution allows people to hone in on what is risky and what is not — which ultimately keeps our collective public health response strong.

‘With that in mind, and with acknowledgment that the goal of every educational institution and child care provider is to safeguard children from harm and foster inclusion, today, the Iowa Department of Public Health has adjusted its guidance to recommend that school, and childcare settings approach COVID-19 like other childhood illnesses. For ease of reference, please see the attached detailed list of common child illnesses and exclusion criteria, which now include COVID-19. This guidance comes in consultation with the Department of Education, and underscores that the overall health and well-being of children must be our primary focus.

‘We are concurrently revising our COVID-19 guidance for school and child care settings, including quarantine guidance, to recommend that while COVID-19 positive and symptomatic children should be excluded, exposed children should no longer be required to stay home, regardless of mask usage. Moreover, when there is a positive case, parents should be given information around exposure to COVID-19 in order to make their own informed decisions regarding risk. To that end, while we acknowledge that some parents may want their child to continue to wear a cloth face covering for reasons that make sense to their family or that child’s individual health condition, we urge schools and child care settings to provide parents and students with the option to make their own decision about mask usage.’

During the discussion following Rickey’s statement, the Board emphasized it would continue to follow recommendations of health care professionals.

“We need to acknowledge things have changed,” said board member Carl Johnson. “We need to continue our cleanliness options and give students and families the option.”

Board member Sam Milroy supported following the guidance of health care experts.

“My thoughts are along the same line. Follow the advice of the experts,” said Milroy. “That’s their job. We should be following what they’re recommending now.”

“We said we would do that,” said Hogan. “We’ve been doing it all along.”

Johnson made a motion to end the mask mandate, which was approved in a 5-0 vote.

“I’d say if we’re in unison, that in recognition of the Iowa Department of Public Health and the Iowa Department of Human Services, that masks will be optional in all situations at West Delaware, effective immediately,” said Johnson. “However, masking is still recommended and we will continue with contact tracing and other COVID prevention strategies.”

In a communication to West Delaware families following the decision, Rickey stated, “We realize that some people are more comfortable if everyone is wearing a mask, so we are offering an option. You may choose for your child to engage in the rest of school on site. Or, you may choose for your child to engage in the rest of the school year through remote learning by zooming into your classes instead of attending on site. The same rules for attendance, participation and assignment completion will apply if you choose this option. Students will need to attend EVERY class via Zoom, and to assist the teacher with planning you must commit to this until the end of the school year. Students are welcome to continue with athletics and other activities.

“We are hoping that everyone will work together to ensure a happy and healthy end of the school year for everyone. We have so much to celebrate.”

• During a Special Board Meeting, May 16, Maquoketa Valley’s Board of Education voted to follow IDPH guidelines.

In a statement, Superintendent Dave Hoeger said, “The Iowa Department of Public Health announced on Friday that Iowa Schools should transition to optional wearing of cloth face coverings for students and staff. Based on this guidance, our school board met on Sunday and voted to accept these recommendations immediately.”

“We will continue to contact trace and communicate with families if their child has been exposed to someone testing positive for COVID-19. Exposed students are no longer required to quarantine and it will be up to parents to decide if they want to keep their students home and to monitor their child’s health.”

• Edgewood-Colesburg released the following statement:

“Following Ed-Co’s Return to Learn Plan, and guidance from the Iowa Department of Public Health, Ed-Co families will have the choice to have children wear masks at school and school activities covered by Ed-Co School policies. Policies at other schools may vary.”

This change is effective immediately.