‘A safe learning environment’: Inside Davenport School District’s debate over masking | local education

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The Davenport School District has voted to require masks in its schools.

Face coverings will be mandatory for students, staff and anyone else in a district building. The council’s decision was based at least in part on guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that says everyone should wear a mask indoors in areas of high COVID-19 transmission.

Hospital intensive care units have been nearly full in the Quad-Cities for weeks, and cases among children are on the rise.

Schools in Iowa were banned from mandating masks by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds until last week, when a federal judge suspended the ban pending a new trial on behalf of parents in multiple communities of Iowa, including Davenport.

The lawsuit plaintiffs argue that state law discriminates against students with disabilities, making them more susceptible to COVID-19. The law effectively excludes these students from public schools and denies them equal access to education in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the plaintiffs claim.

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“Tomorrow we will continue to strongly encourage families, students and staff to wear masks, but it will give our families time to talk to their students, it will give us the weekend to gather masks, have conversations that are necessary and then the mandate will take full effect on Monday,” Davenport Superintendent TJ Schneckloth said after the vote.

Schneckloth said school days under the mandate will resemble those at the end of the previous school year.

“When you’re inside wear a mask, when you’re outside we’re not going to have masks,” he said.

The vote was 5 to 2 with all board members present. Bruce Potts and Kent Paustian voted against the measure. Linda Hayes, the vice chair of the board, participated remotely.

There was significant debate among council members prior to the vote. Topics included the type of legal risk the district would face if it did not pass a mandate and how wearing a face covering would affect learning. The meeting, including the debate between the members of the council, is available on the Youtube page. The district also posted an announcement regarding the adoption of the mandate on its webpage.

Board member Jamie Snyder was successful in having the measure amended to include language for a potential change in the law due to the possibility of suspending state law prohibiting the publication of warrants. The vote to amend was 6-1 with Paustian voting against.

“If this temporary restraining order is overturned and it goes back to where this law is in place that doesn’t allow us to mandate masks, that sort of overrides any council action,” he said before making the motion to change the wording.

Potts attempted another amendment. In this case, he would have limited the mandate to elementary schools, while leaving them optional in other buildings. This amendment failed. The vote was 2-5 with Potts and Paustian voting for the measure.

“Elementary students haven’t had the opportunity to get vaccinated, so they’re at higher risk,” Potts said ahead of the vote on his amendment. “Our high school students have had the opportunity to be vaccinated for a long time.”

Whether older students have been vaccinated is their choice or that of their families, he said.

“The evidence that currently exists shows that vaccinated people can both carry the delta variant and pass it on to others, even if they themselves have no symptoms,” said Allison Beck, board member of administration, before the vote on the Potts amendment.

Beck said she doesn’t think the issue is about personal freedom or choice because, in her view, personal freedom only reaches to the extent that it doesn’t interfere with the personal freedom or health of others.

Children who are too young to be vaccinated are often in families with older siblings, Beck said.

“I don’t support the separation of younger students because, for me, it won’t prevent transmission enough,” Beck said.

There was no public comment period during the meeting and only a handful of people were in the audience, but the district requested public comment online from Wednesday until shortly before the start of the meeting. Thursday meeting.

“We had over 3,500 responses for board members to see,” said school board chair Dan Gosa.

This gave the board an idea of ​​opinions within the community, he said. The board also had to consider the health and safety of students in the buildings. There are children who are not old enough to be vaccinated.

If they contracted COVID-19, they could be out for a few weeks, which is a significant learning loss for them, Gosa said.

“We had to make sure we provided them with a safe learning environment,” he said.

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