Union School District -- stock

Nearly all Union R-XI School District students will now be required to wear masks as the district moves to follow guidance on quarantines recently announced by Gov. Mike Parson.

The policy is a change from the previous rules, which required anyone in a K-12 school to quarantine for 14 days if they are directly exposed to the coronavirus. Now, Union schools will not require people who are exposed to the virus to quarantine if both the person exposed and the infected person are wearing masks.

The district’s mask mandate is stricter than the mask mandate issued by Franklin County Friday, which applies to people aged 10 and older.

“We are still notifying anybody that there’s a positive case in a classroom,” Superintendent Dr. Steve Weinhold said at the board of education meeting Wednesday, Nov. 18. “We’re not changing that. What will change is, if the kids were properly wearing their masks the whole time, they will be told they don’t have to quarantine. They can still come to school.”

Parents can then decide if the student comes in to class, Weinhold said.

“If they choose to quarantine, we’ll put them online and we’ll get them educated, but it’s their choice, we will not report their names to the county,” he said. “Remember, the county quarantines people, we don’t. We get the names, we do some of the (contact) tracing.”

As part of the change, the board voted to require face masks for students in kindergarten through 12th grades. Previously, only students in fourth grade and higher had to wear a mask, except on buses, where all students are required to wear masks.

Students who do not wear masks, as well as anyone within 6 feet of them, will still be quarantined if exposed.

“Both people have to wear masks,” board member Matt Borgmann said.

Only students with a medical reason from a doctor can avoid wearing a mask, Weinhold said.

“There are a small, small, small handful,” he said. “Very few doctors are issuing medical (exemptions).”

The new mask rules go into effect Monday, Nov. 23. Schools will have small paper masks available for students who forget to bring one.

Some large school districts, like St. Louis County and city and Kansas City, have said they plan to keep the previous quarantine protocols in place, citing the “increasing uncontrolled spread of COVID-19,” according to the Associated Press.

But Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven has said earlier quarantining practices are creating staffing shortages and keeping too many kids at home, where many struggle to keep up without the structure of in-person learning.

Weinhold has previously said that quarantines have been among the most difficult challenges of having school in the pandemic, with healthy students and staff staying home making it difficult.

For those who would rather not have their students attend school in person, Union R-XI is taking registration for the second semester of Wildcat@Home, its virtual learning program. For more information, visit  tinyurl.com/WildcatAtHome2

It is not assumed that those currently in the online program will remain in it. Students who are in Wildcat@Home this semester will need to reapply.