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In a compromise after a debate at the Meramec Valley R-III School District Board of Education meeting April 21, members decided to reduce masking requirements for summer school students. They will revisit the decision in May when they vote on the finalized policy.

Under the decision, pre-K through fourth grade students would not be required to wear masks during the summer school term, running June 2–30. At the May 19 board meeting, they will determine if this also will apply fifth grade students and up. They will cast their votes at that meeting to solidify the masking policies for all pre-K–12 students.

The change comes following Superintendent Dr. John Mulford’s proposal to shift to green status in summer for all students. In this scenario, “students would be encouraged to wear face coverings but not required,” he said. 

There also would be a minimum of 3 feet between desks, and masks would not be required while seated nor in the hallways. If teachers are uncomfortable, they could require students to wear masks in their classrooms.

During the meeting, Mulford said faculty would be required to wear masks only when within 6 feet of others under the green status. In an interview Friday, he said the board is leaning toward requiring faculty members wear face coverings at all times.

Board vice president Dianna Meyer pushed back against Mulford’s proposal that all students’ mask mandates be dropped.

“I don’t know that this should be a time that we’re on the bleeding edge,” she said.

She listed her concerns: Students under 16 still do not have vaccines available, so this is too early, she said. If cases increase again, it will be harder to tighten restrictions once loosened. A teacher could face backlash for requesting their students wear masks when the district does not.

Mulford said student enrollment numbers, and therefore funding, are influencing the choice.

Parents have indicated the need for their children to get a break from masking, he said. They are waiting until they hear whether the board will offer this before they enroll their children in the program.

“If masks are required during summer school, they likely won’t send them, and our numbers aren’t there significantly right now,” Mulford said. “We really are shooting for a strong summer school, which we need for next year.”

The administration will send a survey to parents and faculty to determine if this is a majority opinion, as suggested by board member Sean Brinker.

Mulford said no one was required to wear masks during last year’s summer school session until halfway through, when teachers were required. With the start of the school year, students in fifth grade and up wore masks.

“Because kids are so inconsistent, a lot of them have to end up quarantining anyhow,” he said. “In the heat of the summer, the sweating and all those things, I know our elementary principals are concerned about that age group and wearing masks in June.”

This term’s masking protocols will remain the same throughout the rest of the school year, Mulford said. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend schools “prioritize universal and correct use of masks and physical distancing.”

An estimated 75 to 85 percent of MVR-III staff and faculty have been vaccinated, Mulford said. This follows the April 13 vaccination clinic at the district, where about 60 percent of the staff were fully immunized. Another 15 to 25 percent have been vaccinated elsewhere.