Students who attend South Hardin schools in person this fall will be required to wear masks, face shields or sit behind a portable Plexiglass desk shield when it is impossible to socially distance from others.
The Hubbard-Radcliffe and Eldora-New Providence school boards voted unanimously to adopt the administration's Return to Learn plan at a joint meeting Tuesday night.
The district has purchased PPE (personal protective equipment) for students and staff. Everyone will be provided with two masks, a face shield and a portable barrier. Students will be required to wear a mask or face shield on the bus, on bathroom breaks and any other time they cannot maintain the required six feet of social distancing. Those guidelines have been endorsed by the Hardin County Public Health Department.
Dr. Adam Zellmer, who serves as superintendent for both districts, said there are still many unanswered questions and guidance from the state is lacking.
"As districts, we're still waiting for guidance with regard to transportation, with regard to food nutrition, with regard to how many people we can have in a gym or out on a football field," he said.
Zellmer has said the plan adopted by the boards will most likely evolve as new information and guidance is received. Families have a choice, but must commit to in-person or online-only learning for at least the entire first semester when registration begins Aug. 7. According to an online survey conducted by the districts, 68 percent of respondents said they prefer to send students back to learning on campus, while 20 percent were unsure and 10.5 percent said they would choose the online-only option.
About a dozen people attended the joint meeting. Four spoke or asked questions in person and another eight emails regarding the matter were read to the boards by Zellmer. Overwhelmingly, the opinions were in favor of a PPE mandate.
Diedre Howe, a third-grade teacher and parent at E-NP elementary, said in an email sent to the district that she wants to protect herself, her students and her family.
"I'm asking you to mandate masks this year for all students and staff," she wrote.
The Rev. Corey Larson, who also serves as director of Iowa Falls EMS, wrote in an email that the only safe way for schools to open in his opinion was to mandate the use of PPE.
"The best mitigation strategy possible is simply to wear masks," Larson wrote. "Our kids will follow our example. If we place a high value on physical distancing and wearing a mask or face shield they will embrace it and will rise to the occasion of caring for and protecting their classmates, teachers and families."
Janelle Guiles, a mother of three students at South Hardin schools told the boards she was conflicted on the matter.
"I don't want them required, but I understand they need to wear them on the bus," she said. "I know I'm kind of contradicting myself. I just have a concern with my kids wearing them for a long period of time during the day. I don't like that."
E-NP Board Member Emily Herring said she hadn't heard resistance to requiring PPE from any teachers.
"A lot of the letters we've been getting in the last couple of days are from our teachers," she said. "I'm so proud of our school in the fact that there's not a single teacher that doesn't want to come back."
School is scheduled to resume Aug. 24. For the first two weeks, students with surnames that begin with a letter in the first half of the alphabet will attend the first day. All other students will attend the next day, starting a rotation until after the Labor Day holiday when all students who choose to do so will return to on campus learning.