Colton and Alivia Nikkel, children of David and Monica Nikkel of Sully, arrive at school Monday morning, Oct. 5, masked up and ready to learn.
In response to new guidance from the Iowa Department of Education and Iowa Department of Public Health, the Lynnville-Sully School Board approved a mask requirement for all preK-12 students, staff, and visitors during a special school board meeting on Saturday, Oct. 3.
New guidance related to COVID-19 contact tracing released Sept. 29 prompted the requirement. The new guidelines state contact tracing and subsequent quarantine in business, education, and child care settings is no longer recommended if a potential exposure occurs while both the infectious individual and the close contacts are wearing face coverings consistently and correctly.
School officials held meetings on Thursday, Oct. 1, to present and review COVID-19 mitigation strategies. Mr. Shane Ehresman, superintendent; Mr. Aaron Shipley, high school principal; and Mrs. Teri Bowlin, PreK-8 principal; facilitated both virtual and in-person meetings. Ehresman joined the in-person meeting virtually as he is quarantining at home due to close contact tracing himself. In both meetings, administrators emphasized the shared staff values of wanting students in the building, explained the contact tracing guidelines, as well as the preK-12 mask mandate and high school hybrid learning proposal.
“We really value students being in school,” shared Mr. Shipley at the beginning of the meeting. “There is no substitute for students being in school. We want the kids in the building.” Mr. Shipley indicated this was a shared opinion of all staff members who were nearing the end of two weeks of virtual learning.
Over 120 people attended the Thursday evening meetings either virtually or in person. Community members who attended virtually and in person had the opportunity to ask questions, express their opinion, and provide feedback. In addition to the community members and parents, staff members and school board members were present and listening to the concerns and questions. Based on parent feedback, the mask requirement was the overwhelmingly favored next step to implement in order to get the students back and keep them in school, although questions did arise. Originally, the date to vote on the mask requirement was set for Monday, Oct. 5. However, based on community feedback indicating they wished for quicker implementation of the mask requirement, the vote was pushed to a special meeting on Saturday, Oct. 3. School board members unanimously approved the preK-12 mask requirement, and it was put into effect on Monday, Oct. 5.
While masks don’t eliminate the need for all contact tracing, it will significantly decrease the contact tracing aspect if masks are worn by all parties correctly. Instances where contact tracing may still come into effect include lunch periods and if someone does not wear a mask due to medical or religious waivers. If someone without a mask tests positive for COVID-19, those within six feet of the infected person, regardless if they were wearing a mask, will need to quarantine for 14 days. It is important to remember all parties involved in a potential COVID-19 positive case must be wearing masks correctly in order to avoid contact tracing and quarantine.
There will be opportunities for mask breaks, according to information released by the school during the Sept. 30 meetings. Examples when students and staff may safely take off their masks are when working in a space alone, outside at recess, outside during PE class, or inside during PE when social distancing is possible, and on the court or field during athletic competition (masks must be worn on the sideline/bench). The school will be considering official mask breaks where certain times will be designated when students may safely remove their masks.
In addition to the classroom and hallways, students and staff will be expected to wear a mask while utilizing district-provided transportation. Visitors will also be required to wear a mask when social distancing cannot be maintained during school hours and at athletic competitions (outdoors as well when social distancing between family units cannot happen) and extra-curricular activities.
Concerns about those times contact tracing may still come into effect, such as in the lunchroom, and in those instances where students don’t wear a mask due to medical/religious reasons, were brought up by parents during the feedback period of both meetings. Administrators and staff took the valid concerns into consideration. No decision to help reduce the instances where contact tracing could still be an issue during lunch periods was made during Saturday’s school board meeting. Mr. Ehresman asked staff and school board members for a proposed lunch plan by Oct. 9.
The high school hybrid learning plan was also explained at the Thursday meeting. At the time the special meetings were planned, the new guidelines regarding masks and contact tracing had not been released. With new mask guidelines in place, the hybrid learning plan was tabled until the Oct. 19 school board meeting. If the need for hybrid learning presents itself before Oct. 19, a special meeting will be called.
SVPA Facility Design
The Lynnville-Sully Board of Directors held a special meeting on Monday, Oct. 5, with one agenda item, SVPA Facility Design. Those present listened to SVPA Architects explain the proposed timeline as well as a detailed review of the conceptual drawings for the new concession stand, new multi-purpose room, remodeled entryways, and mechanical system replacement. A review of the higher costs due to increased building size and increased material costs was discussed. After much explanation and input, the board approved the SVPA Facility Design.