Students across Christian County return to class, starting with kids in Ozark on Aug. 20. Most of them will be wearing face coverings, at least when they enter and exit their classrooms.
In Ozark, students in grades K-12 will be required to wear masks, but only in cases where social distancing is not an option. Students and staff will be required to wear face coverings in high traffic areas and hallways, during arrival and dismissal, in restrooms and in locker rooms, on buses and while waiting in line in the cafeteria.
Ozark students will be able to remove their masks in classroom settings where they are distanced at least 6 feet from other students and staff, during physical activity and while eating and drinking in the cafeteria. Medical exemptions may be made for students who are on individualized education plans or individualized health plans. There are also situations where a teacher may create small groups of students, which will be in effect for the entirety of a class.
School policy crossed into a public policy debate in Ozark, where Superintendent Chris Bauman was invited to address the Ozark Board of Aldermen on Aug. 10. In that address, Dr. Bauman noted that masks are one measure of defense against the spread of COVID-19 among students and teachers, but they won’t kill off all of the school district’s public health concerns.
In-person instruction in Ozark stopped in March 2020, as it did in every school district in Missouri. Ozark did hold some summer school classes for students in kindergarten up to eighth grade.
“We knew it was imperative to get our students back in front of our teachers, because that’s—you talk about the social, emotional impact on our students—they needed to be back in the classroom,” Bauman said.
Summer school enrollment is small in comparison to what’s coming on Aug. 20, when about 7,000 people are expected to be in Ozark School District buildings each day. Masks were not required for summer school students.
“We, at that time were, ’strongly encouraging,’ that was the terminology that we used. The reason why we didn’t push (masking) further is that we simply didn’t have the products on hand, the PPE on hand, to supply that,” Bauman said. “If we were to require something, or even strongly encourage something, we want to make sure that we can also supply that at the same time.”
Social distancing and hand hygiene will still be required of students and teachers. Mask requirements in settings where keeping 6 feet of distance between each student are also part of the approach to reducing COVID-19 risks.
“There is not one option that we have. We all wish there was one, ‘Here is a shot,’ and then we all go about our business, similar to the flu,” Bauman said. “We have to come back and try to mitigate our situation the best that we can.”
Nearly identical policies to the one in Ozark have been enacted in Nixa, Billings and Clever. In Sparta and Chadwick, middle school and high school students are expected to wear masks in situations where social distancing is impossible, but some allowances are made for elementary school children. Spokane is the only school district in Christian County where mask use is “strongly encouraged,” according to policy, but not a requirement.
All seven school districts in Christian County are offering online education options to students this fall. All districts have filed robust re-entry plans on their respective websites with information on online learning alongside information on cleaning schedules, procedures for containing outbreaks or closing classrooms and even buildings in the event of an outbreak.
Temperature checks for students, teachers and staff will be prevalent in school buildings across Christian County.
Bauman encouraged the Ozark Board of Aldermen to adopt an ordinance that requires face mask use in public places where social distancing is not possible.
“I’m still behind the encouraging, the trying, but we need action today so that we are the safest we can be come Aug. 20, when we open our doors for everybody to return,” Bauman said.
As of Aug. 13, the Ozark School District had 25 staff members who were quarantined in their homes because they had been closely exposed to persons who tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. When a Christian County resident has a positive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test that shows the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, a health department investigator contacts persons that the infected patient had close contact with. “Close contact,” is defined as face-to-face interaction at a distance of less than 6 feet for a time of 15 minutes or longer.
Persons who make close contact with COVID-19 patients are then advised to stay at home and monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID-19 for at least 10 days.
That means they miss work.
“COVID-19 is here in our community. This is our reality and if we do not protect ourselves outside of our building doors, we have no chance of keeping our doors open. Because there is not one single option to combat COVID-19, we have to use multiple mitigation strategies to create the safest environment,” Bauman wrote in a memo sent to teachers and staff on Aug. 13.
Four teachers also addressed the Ozark Board of Aldermen on Aug. 10, and all four spoke in favor of a public masking requirement. Suzanne McGowen is a music teacher.
“We do know that masks reduce the transmission of this virus. If we can slow the transmission now, we will be better equipped as teachers to better educate our students in person all year long,” McGowen said. “We also know that as school begins, it is likely that cases will increase as more and more faculty and staff and students are exposed, the result will be quarantine of our small group cohorts, quarantines of classrooms, potentially entire schools, or even the entire district. This is not what is best for our students.”
Students who don’t have masks will be given disposable masks to wear in most Christian County districts. In Billings, the school district is issuing two cloth masks to each student, and the masks are emblazoned with a Billings Wildcats logo on them. Students are expected to alternate the masks, with the instruction that they be washed between each day of use.
Back to school
School start dates and mask policies
Ozark - Aug. 20, masks required K-12
Nixa - Aug. 24, masks required K-12
Chadwick - Aug. 24, masks required for middle school and high school students in certain situations
Billings - Aug. 25, masks required K-12
Clever - Aug. 25, masks required K-12
Sparta - Aug. 25, masks required grades 5-12
Spokane - Aug. 25, masking strongly encouraged