Masks now expected at MFL MarMac when social distancing isn’t possible

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By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

MFL MarMac now has the expectation that students will wear face coverings when they cannot social distance—meaning within six feet of anyone else for more than 15 minutes. The school board approved the new policy at its Oct. 12 meeting.

The change comes with the recent recommendation by the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) that states close contacts of COVID-19 positive cases will no longer need to quarantine for 14 days if a face covering was consistently worn by both people during the exposure.

In addition, face coverings will continue to be worn on school buses, and the district expects masks to be worn during sporting events when social distancing cannot be done.

“With these changes, we can reduce and hopefully eliminate the need to quarantine entire classrooms and large groups of students,” said school board president Gina Roys, who read a statement from herself and the board.

The district’s principals agreed. 

“When you talk to the kids, they just want to be here,” said high school principal Larry Meyer. “This is the best way to make sure our kids get to stay here on a daily basis.”

Students have responded well so far. At the middle school, principal Denise Mueller, who’s had to deal with quarantining large groups of students, said kids are doing what they need to do to be at school.

“They don’t want to go through that, trying to go through the process of learning at home and then having to come back having missed their classes and events,” she said.

“It’s an emotional situation for everyone involved. We don’t want to tell kids they can’t come to school for a period of time,” added elementary principal Kathy Koether.

Roys said the decision was not made lightly. School administration has worked daily with IDPH, the Clayton County Department of Public Health and the Iowa Department of Education to receive guidance on the issue. The board has also received numerous emails and phone calls and participated in meetings and conversations to evaluate options.

“We have heard from our community and have listened. We have not taken anything for granted and have worked in collaboration with the administration to come up with a plan,” she stated. “We need to be aware of all the facts, regardless of beliefs, and take a step back and realize the amount of work that goes into any decision made in regard to MFL MarMac...We don’t just look at one particular group—we look at the big picture for the best interest of the entire district. Are these decisions going to make everyone happy? No, definitely not. However, the amount of time and energy involved is greater than most realize.”

She also thanked the teachers on the front lines of the ever-changing environment: “[You have] stepped up to the challenge and, even though it is probably the toughest year of your teaching career, you are doing a great job.”

The new expectation doesn’t mean face coverings will need to be worn throughout the whole day. For example, said Roys, transition time between classes is just three to four minutes and, during lunch, creative ways to social distance have been developed. Some teachers are also taking their classrooms outside or using larger spaces, such as the auditorium, to teach.

“There are breaks,” stressed Koether, the elementary principal. “[Students] come off the buses and are wearing their masks in the hall. If they are in small groups and can’t distance the six feet, then they are wearing masks. If they aren’t or can’t wear a mask, they need to stay away a distance of six feet. We are not at recess any longer than 15 minutes, so kids don’t wear their masks to recess. Of course, while eating lunch they don’t wear their masks. At P.E., they also don’t wear their masks.”

Students’ social and emotional needs are important, noted Roys. If a student simply needs a break from their mask, the school will accommodate it. If there is a specific reason why a child cannot wear a face covering, parents are asked to reach out to teachers and establish an open line of communication.

“I believe that, with open lines of communication and hard work, we will get through this together,” Roys concluded.

In other news from the Oct. 12 meeting:

• For at least the rest of the school year, the board will continue to meet in the high school auditorium in Monona to allow for better social distancing. Meetings are the second Monday of each month at 6 p.m.

• The board reviewed and approved the fiscal year 2019 certified annual report, special education supplement, transportation report and request of supplemental aid. The district’s unspent balance was $1,086,000, up from $990,000 a year ago. For a few years, it was in the $700,000 to $900,000 range due to declining enrollment, said superintendent Dale Crozier. Over the past 20 years, the district has lost around 400 students.

“I think we’ll be about $1,250,000 at the end of this year,” he added. “If we could be at $1.5 million, that’s a good goal for districts our size.”

Crozier said increased enrollment, which MFL MarMac expects this year, helps. So has the negotiating team that worked out salaries. In addition, the district has been able to enact some early retirements and used attrition to appropriately reduce staff.

• The board gave Crozier the go-ahead to move forward with the slow process of paying off the district’s debt, but a resolution will be needed to make any decisions official. MFL MarMac currently owes $1.7 million, $217,000 of which is in a contingency fund. $200,000 will be paid off this year, bringing the total down to around $1.4 million. Crozier said the district could potentially utilize sales tax and physical plant and equipment levy (PPEL) cash balances to pay off the debt.

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