To prevent the spread of COVID-19, Bolivar R-1 students could be required to wear masks in the classroom this fall.
Members of the board of education discussed the issue at their Thursday, July 16, meeting, opting not to make a decision yet but to meet weekly until the school year begins next month.
Dr. Shannon Calvert, pediatrician at Citizens Memorial Hospital in Bolivar, was called to speak before the board on the importance of masks.
“As far as American Academy of Pediatrics is concerned, seated school is what’s most important for children,” Calvert said. “How are we going to get that accomplished? The No. 1 way to do that is mandated masks. It will be difficult, but just because something is hard doesn't mean it's not worth doing.”
Seated school is important, Calvert said, because without it, child abuse goes unnoticed.
“Calls to child abuse hotlines have decreased by 50%,” she said. “We know that statistically the amount of abuse is not decreasing by 50%. It’s because those kids aren't seeing other people. It means we’re increasing deaths by them not being in school. That’s contradictory to think that sending kids to school during a pandemic will save their lives, but that's the reality we live in.”
Masks can help keep the process safe by greatly reducing the infectivity rate, Calvert told the board.
In a school setting, it means that, if a student tests positive, the whole campus wouldn’t need to be shut down, she said.
“The likelihood of you getting infected if the masked person is infected is dramatically decreased,” she said. “If both are masked, we could monitor for symptoms and our students could still stay in school.”
While some parents or students may have concerns over the alleged health impact of masks, Calvert said she’s also done research.
“I’ve had parents call me about asthmatic attack while wearing masks,” she said. “I brought those parents into the office, hooked a child up to a pulse (oximeter) and listened to their lungs before and during a trial of mask wearing. There are no asthma attacks. Are they breathing faster? Yes. But they’re not struggling for breath. As far as health concerns, I don’t have health concerns.”
The implications extend beyond the classroom, too, Calvert said.
Slowing down the spread of the virus is important to maintaining the stability of Missouri’s health care system, she said.
“I’m not saying masks are 100% effective,” she said. “I’m saying we have to slow it down. The more we slow it down, we won't overwhelm hospitals and make things worse.”
Superintendent Tony Berry expressed reservations with a districtwide mask mandate, citing concerns with how Bolivar could evenly enforce the policy and also how students could potentially exploit it, causing disciplinary issues.
Some board members, including Kyle Lancaster, were ready to make the decision Thursday.
“I say we do it now,” Lancaster said.
Board member Jeralen Shive concurred.
“(Announcing now) will give people time to respond and practice and get masks,” she said.
Berry told the board he’d already ordered 5,000 masks for the district, just in case. It’s still important to wait, he said.
“This is not the day to make that statement,” he said.
Board members Lancaster, Shive, Jared Taylor, Keri Clayton, Paula Hubbert, JR Collins and Brandon Van Deren were present.
The board also met in closed session to discuss legal actions; hiring, firing, disciplining or promoting employees; individually identifiable personnel records and performance rating or records pertaining to employees. According to the unapproved minutes, no action required to be reported by open records law was taken.