Mid-Prairie students will return to school with full-time in-person classes on Aug. 24.
With the support of a number of parents in attendance and against the recommendation of several staff members, the Mid-Prairie school board voted unanimously Monday to start school full-time and in person.
Monday’s meeting began with a public form that lasted more than an hour.
Many parents expressed their support for starting school full-time and in person, while several Mid-Prairie staff members expressed their concerns.
One teacher presented a petition signed by 63 Mid-Prairie employees expressing their concerns regarding a full-time in-person start to school.
In statements prior to the first vote, each school board member gave a statement, and each expressed their desire for 100% in-person learning.
“I think that we need to be together at school,” board member Jeremy Gugel said. “I think we need to be back as one.
“Volleyball started this morning, and football started this evening. I find it difficult to figure out how, with all those activities starting, we hope to make a hybrid model any more secure than 100%.”
At last week’s board meeting, the administration presented its recommended hybrid plan where students would be broken up into two groups. One group would attend school in person Monday, Wednesday and every other Friday, and the other group would attend Tuesday, Thursday and every other Friday.
The board directed the administration to come back with a 100% in-person plan.
“Whatever you decide, we will make it work,” Superintendent Mark Schneider told the board Monday.
Board Vice President Jeremy Pickard reminded parents who are uncomfortable with the in-person learning plan, that they still have the options of utilizing the district’s newly approved Virtual Learning Academy or the Home School Assistance Program.
While board members were of one accord regarding a full-time option, they were split on the issue of face masks, as were people who spoke during the public forum.
“If teachers and students want to wear masks, by all means let them,” one parent said. “Don’t make us wear masks if we don’t want to.”
Another parent pointed out that “human beings are social beasts.”
“I’m concerned about a loss of communication when students can’t see a face,” the parent said. “I would encourage an option that includes optional masks.”
A Mid-Prairie High School student said he has a sister with health conditions, putting her at a higher risk of infection.
“I want to go back to school as much as anyone else, but I’m not willing to lose my sister just for someone else’s right,” he said. “Is wearing a mask really that bad? You have a slight inconvenience of wearing a piece of cloth on your face.”
A teacher said that she felt that there was not much support for how she feels.
“We can’t forget that we’re in a pandemic,” she said. “We have to do our part to slow the spread and do our part to keep our students and teachers healthy.”
Pickard noted the divide in opinions regarding face coverings.
“I feel like, with this one, you’re choosing between parents mostly and staff mostly,” Pickard said, adding that he would prefer masks to be optional.
Board member Mary Allread spoke against mandating masks, saying, “I’d like it to be an option for masks for teachers and students.”
Board member Denise Chittick said, “I would like to see Mid-Prairie schools return 100% face-to-face, with face coverings mandated for all involved and social distancing in class areas and common areas whenever possible.”
Gugel said, “I do feel that because there are hundreds of people, we should have face masks because there seems to be enough concern among a large group of people that this would bring safety and security.”
A parent proposed starting the school year with optional masks, then revisiting the subject at the end of September, saying, “We need a baseline.”
Ultimately, the board voted 4-3 to require masks, with Allred, Pickard and Jodi Meader voting against the mandate.
As part of the motion, the board agreed to reassess the mandate at its Sept. 28 meeting.