Community members express concerns about COVID-19 and wearing masks at Trenton Board of Education meeting

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Three community members spoke during the public comment portion of the Trenton R-9 Board of Education meeting the evening of Tuesday, August 11th. They each have either children or grandchildren who will attend school in the district this year. Many of the concerns involved wearing masks.

Susan Cooksey said her grandson was born premature and sometimes has trouble breathing at night. She worries his mask and other students’ masks will be dirty, students will constantly touch and adjust their masks, and student’s immune systems will suffer.

Cooksey thinks it is amazing Grundy County has less than 30 cases of COVID-19, wonders what else children have to sacrifice, and believes there could be a compromise.

She said she has a daughter who is a nurse, and that daughter has advised her to not wear a mask.

Lisa McCullough spoke and acknowledged that the school year has not been easy to plan. She knows the district is trying to do what is best, and it will not be able to please everyone. She thanked the district for offering a virtual option as well as in-person learning.

McCullough said she and other Trenton R-9 parents wanted what other districts were implementing with no masks unless social distancing is not an option and cleaning is done before and after students are in rooms. She named several school districts in counties with more COVID-19 cases than Grundy County following guidelines where masks were not required.

She said she did not understand how masks being required in school all day helps when there would be no social distancing or masks outside of school when the school day is done, and students gather in groups and for events.

She noted that when she picked up a form to be able to speak at the board meeting, no one was wearing a mask in the district office. McCullough mentioned seeing several board members, teachers, and other school officials in public not wearing masks. She also commented that she had seen nurses and hospital staff not wearing masks, which makes her think COVID-19 is not as bad as the public is being led to believe. McCullough said she was not shaming anyone but wondered why her children should have to follow protocol others were not.

She added that she is required to wear a mask for one hour each weekday and suffers from health problems because of it.

McCullough worries about people becoming depressed. She said her daughter has become isolated and needs social interaction. Her daughter is hard of hearing and wonders what Trenton R-9 is doing for other students like her. She is worried wearing masks will affect her daughter’s grades. If the district is worried about liability, she would be willing to sign a waiver.

McCullough also wondered how the district would mandate virtual learning. She believes students need to see instructors on the computer, and assignments should be graded. She noted parents are working together to form their own classrooms for virtual learning, so parents can rotate shifts and not have to miss more weeks of work.

McCullough asked how the district would mandate her children wearing masks and if it would mandate students receiving the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available.

Dena Romesburg said the school district allows parents to not have their children vaccinated for diseases worse than COVID-19 because it is against their religion. If her children are vaccinated, then the others are protected. She commented that if other students are wearing masks, then her children should be protected.

She agreed that there was no social distancing or mask-wearing at some events because people were allowed to choose to follow the guidelines. She does not think the school district should get to choose if children have to wear masks all day, especially when in classes.

Romesburg also wondered what would happen with special needs children.

Board President Dorothy Taul said she appreciated the thoughts of those who spoke. However, she noted things are different now, and things have to be adapted and modified for children to come to school and learn. The district is trying to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations to stay in school longer.

Later on in the meeting, Superintendent Mike Stegman went over the district’s Return to School Plan. He said it is a guiding document that can be changed. He knows it is not perfect, but the district is trying to do the best it can.

Stegman explained Trenton R-9 is not making students wear masks all day. Students do not have to wear masks in cohort classrooms at Rissler, but teachers will. There has been talk of taking classes outside, and students will not have to wear masks when outside. He acknowledged it was true that the district could not enforce mask-wearing outside of school, but the district would enforce it inside like a dress code violation. He also said the district has special masks that can be used around special needs children who need more virtual learning.

Board Member David Whitaker commented that he is used to wearing a mask as a dentist. He knows children will touch the masks, which could be a source of infection. Students could also breathe in bacteria and viruses if they put on their masks backward.

He noted the CDC recommends people wash their hands after every time they touch their mask. If that happens, he worries students will spend a lot of time washing their hands, which will impact their learning.

Whitaker advised that children who are high risk maybe should not come to school. He noted that generally, children are not high risk.

Stegman hopes by using Google Classroom for online learning, teachers will not have to do two jobs. There could be changes. The district wants to determine how many students will participate in virtual learning and should have more concrete numbers after Friday.

Board Member Cliff Roeder asked if Trenton R-9 had looked into using an outside source for online learning. Stegman said if the district did use an outside source, it would probably be the Missouri Course Assessment Program. The district would be responsible for the whole cost of using MOCAP if it was used, but the district could receive some attendance money back.

Whitaker wondered about how the state would handle credits and tests if the district had to go back to all online. Stegman noted he did not know what the state would do. He said if the district went back to virtual learning, it might bring in staff to teach at the school and have assignments and grades. If the district had to shut down in November, it might be closed for a month, and a month could be added to the end of the year.

Whitaker also asked what would be done about remediation. Stegman said what he has read advises teachers to start where they would usually start and go back to fill in holes if it is needed.

Stegman said a COVID-19 Response Team has been created as well as standard response protocol. Stage 1 is prevention and involves no confirmed cases among staff or students, Stage 2 is mitigation and involves one or more cases at one building, Stage 3 involves modified operations and confirmed cases in one specific area reaching 10%, and Stage 4 involves a facility closure and suspected or confirmed cases exceeding 10% of a facility’s occupancy. There is also Stage 5, which involves the closure of the district for a minimum of 14 days as mandated by the Grundy County Health Department, Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and/or the governor’s office.

After a question from Whitaker, Athletic Director John Cowling reported fall sports athletes would not have to wear masks at all times.

The Return to School Plan is to be on Trenton R-9’s website.