The Mason City School Board last night unanimously approved a policy that mandates mask usage inside a school building when the illness rate inside that building reaches 7% or more, with the requirement being lifted once the illness rate drops below 5%.

That would include all illnesses, not just COVID-19. Superintendent Dave Versteeg says nurses would report the information daily with parents being immediately notified if a building went over seven percent. Versteeg says, “We do that at the end of every day and that nurse can report to us, and we can send out a notice to those parents that evening, saying ‘Building X’ hit the threshold, so tomorrow people will wear a mask.”

Board member Jodi Draper says the compromise tries to address the best policies for staff and students while at the same time hearing from people who don’t want to see any mandate put in place. “Our job is to represent people and look at both of those views, and though can we meet them and greet them together into a middle of the road, and I think we can,” Draper says. “I think we can keep our teachers safe, our students safe, our children safe that come in and out of the buildings with special needs. How do we do that? That’s what people elected us to find out, and to research, and to do.”

Board member Alan Steckman went along with the compromise after wanting to see a full-time mask mandate in the schools, saying that masks worked well in the schools last year.

“I’ve had somebody send me a post and said ‘Masks do not prevent COVID, it says so on the box.’ What the hell box was that? What the hell box?” Steckman says. “My thinking on it is that seat belts do not prevent death. You can die with a seat belt. You can die with a mask, but generally they prevent death, generally masks prevent death. So I’m voting masks.”

Currently, a school district is required to report to the county department of public health when a building reaches a 10% absentee or illness rate so that local public health officials can determine if any further action needs to be taken. The board voted to start the 7% policy next Monday to allow Versteeg to draw up further guidelines for students and staff to follow when a mandate is in place.

(By Bob Fisher, KRIB, Mason City)