Students climb off the bus

Students climb off the bus and walk into Washington High School wearing face coverings Monday, Aug. 24. School officials with the Washington School District and other nearby schools said this week that masks will be optional this year despite the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics that said all students should wear masks.

Pediatricians recommend face coverings, vaccinations for school-aged children

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), an organization of 67,000 pediatricians, recommended Monday that all students over age 2 be required to wear masks in school due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Currently students are not mandated to wear masks on school grounds in Washington, Union, Pacific or St. Clair.

St. Francis Borgia Regional High School President Matt Schutte said the Archdiocese of St. Louis had a conference call Monday with parochial school presidents to discuss the archdiocese’s July 13 announcement, in which it made masking optional starting fall 2021.

“Basically, we’re going to stick with what the archdiocese said, which is, we’re making them optional for our students,” Schutte said.

The public school districts’ boards made masks optional during the summer sessions. Washington Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Kephart said the Washington school board will discuss its fall 2021 mask policy at its next meeting, July 28, but will make no policy changes before then.

Union R-XI will review its mask requirements for the fall session Wednesday, July 21, according to its agenda. The Meramec Valley R-III Wednesday meeting agenda was not released by The Missourian’s publication deadline. No masks are required at St. Clair R-XIII following its July 15 meeting.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last updated its COVID-19 prevention practices July 9. It recommends that anyone 2 and up who is not vaccinated wear a mask, though it is not a requirement. In addition, the CDC advises schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms.

The AAP’s guidance based on students under 12 being ineligible for vaccination and concerns that variants could spread among children and adults easier than preliminary forms of the virus. Also, because it is difficult to monitor who is unvaccinated, universal masking rules deliver the most consistent “messages, expectations, enforcement and compliance,” according to the AAP’s website. 

The AAP recommends all individuals who are eligible to get vaccinated do so. When correct safety measures are in place, opening schools does not significantly increase community transmission, according to the organization, and it is essential for students’ health and education that they return to in-person learning. 

Its announcement follows a recent rise in COVID-19 cases, particularly the delta variant, throughout the state. Mercy Hospital Washington’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ann-Elizabeth Mohart told The Missourian last week that the variant is in the county, and it is about 60 percent more transmissible than the original COVID-19 virus. Locally, Franklin County had its biggest virus spike in months, with 79 new cases as of Friday, or more than double the 36 reported one week before.

St. Clair R-XIII Superintendent Dr. Kyle Kruse said at the July 15 board of education meeting that students and teachers will need to quarantine next school year if they are unvaccinated and exposed to COVID-19. This follows Gov. Mike Parson’s adjusted quarantine rules, which prevent unvaccinated students from going to school following an exposure when there is no mask mandate.

The district says it is up to the families to hold themselves accountable regarding mask-wearing. Teachers will not get COVID-19 sick leave and will have to use their regular paid sick leave to quarantine.

The St. Clair school district is surveying parents to see if they would be interested in the district holding vaccine clinics Aug. 13 and Sept. 3 for the two-round process, where attendance will be optional.

To confirm whether a student can avoid quarantining post-exposure, the district will ask parents to show their child’s vaccination card, Kruse said. The district  can consult the ShowMeVax database, which records who has been immunized and is accessible by school nurses.

“We’re just laying out the facts, and if you want to make sure your kid doesn’t get quarantined, vaccination is the only way to do that,” Kruse said.

COVID-19 vaccines are not required to attend St. Clair nor the other local public schools in the district or parochial schools.