Area schools forego mask requirements, opt to recommend for students and staff

JASPER COUNTY, Mo. – Should schools require students and teachers wear face masks. That’s a question local districts have had to navigate when preparing for the 2021-2022 school year.

A big part of their preparations has been consulting with their local health departments. Tony Moehr at the Jasper County Health Department says they recommend students and staff wear face masks.

“We have always recommended that that’s probably the best practice,” says Moehr. “Right now we’re not in a good place as far as community spread. We probably have twice the rate of positive tests that the CDC is recommending that would get us out of the high category. And we have three times the number of cases over a seven-day average than the CDC recommends as far as dropping down guard.”

The CDC has mandated that students and passengers wear face masks in school buses. The CDC also “recommends universal indoor masking by all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.” The U.S. Department of Education has said the same, recommending students, staff, and teachers wear face masks inside of school buildings in communities that aren’t fully vaccinated. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education acknowledges the CDC’s stance but ultimately leaves the decision up to local school districts.

“We’re gonna recommend it, we’re going to encourage it. But, it is not a mandate,” says David Pyle, Assistant Superintendent for Operations at Carl Junction School District.

The school district is keeping all of its other mitigation strategies in place. Those include encouraging parents to monitor their students for symptoms, and keeping them home from school if they’re sick. They are also spacing classes out for social distancing when possible, and they are continuing to offer virtual classes for students who qualify.

“We have multiple layers within our safety procedures. We’re not relying just on one thing,” says Pyle.

Diamond is another district where masks will be recommended instead of required. Superintendent Kieth White says they will continue to monitor the situation, but after hearing from the community, the vast majority of parents don’t want masks to be required.

“Taking one of those tools away I don’t think completely throws everything out. But it certainly won’t help in the equation that much. So, I just hope that while it’s not mandatory, that parents will choose to have their children mask to try and keep them in school,” says Moehr.

“We are absolutely confident in our ability to consider the situation and to make decisions that we feel like are in the best interest for our staff and our students,” says Pyle.

Pyle says the district will continue to monitor the situation throughout the year, make adjustments to their policies as needed.

Carthage, Webb City, and Joplin currently only recommend face coverings during the upcoming school year. You can find their back to school plans below:

Joplin Return to School Plan. 

Webb City Return to School Plan.

Carthage Return to School Plan.