Local schools react to letter asking for universal masking

JOPLIN, Mo. – Area physicians say local school districts aren’t doing enough to protect children from COVID-19 when classes begin. They’re urging universal masking. A letter imploring schools take up universal masking in the coming school year was sent to the Joplin, Webb City, Neosho, Carthage, Carl Junction, Seneca, East Newton, McDonald County, and Galena, Kansas. We reached out to the districts the letter went to to get their thoughts.

You can read the full letter here, which includes the list of doctors.

Missouri School Plans vs. Universal Masking

Neosho 

In Neosho, masks are voluntary for students and staff, at least at the beginning of the school year. Superintendent Jim Cummins explains when making the policy they communicated with the Newton County Health Department, as well as with members of the community.

“In just trying to get a feel for where our team members were at and where the community was at, they felt they should be an option. Not mandated. So, we navigate that and at the same time, we tried to figure out ways that we can do our part to keep them as safe as possible,” says Cummins.

He explains the district will be monitoring the situation and making adjustments to the policy as the year goes on. At this time, they’re moving forward with their current policy.

“We did not make any hard and fast… ‘This is what we’re gonna do for the whole semester, this is what we’re gonna do for the year.’ It’s also the reason why we have some automatic shutdown or changes in place,” says Cummins. “So if we see a significant outbreak, our first level… our second level to go to is level yellow, and that would be the mask mandate.”

Neosho Back to School plan.

Joplin

Joplin is also making mask-wearing voluntary. School board member Jeff Koch says he sees no reason currently to take up the topic again during a meeting.

“Masking is just one piece of the prevention strategy. Sometimes the straw argument is that if you aren’t masking, you’re not doing anything. But we are doing a lot,” says Koch.

Joplin Back to School plan.

Carthage

Carthage Schools Superintendent Mark Baker explains they are also moving forward with their current return to school plan. But they also plan to evaluate the procedures as the year goes on, and adjust as needed to keep students, staff, and the community safe.

“We greatly appreciate the information provided by the doctors. The information mirrored the information provided by Carthage Mercy representatives during our board meeting last week,” says Baker. “We will constantly review COVID information and data regarding our students, staff, and community.”

Carthage Back to School plan.

Webb City on Universal Masking

The Webb City school district is recommending and encouraging masking, saying they have always agreed with the guidelines set forth by the CDC, and others. They will continue to move forward with their current plan.

“The Webb City School District has always agreed with the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control, American Academy of Pediatrics, our local health department and physicians. As we highlight in our Cardinal Comeback plan, we highly recommend students and faculty wear a mask for the protection of themselves as well as others. Be that as it may, after reviewing feedback from our parent and staff surveys, the large majority of parents as well as faculty and staff prefer to have the choice of masking.

Our Cardinal Comeback Plan has been out in the public for weeks. Webb City School District is always willing to work with our public health officials and this letter reaching the media before having the opportunity to openly communicate with these specific doctors makes the discussion more challenging. During these unprecedented times when it is more important than ever to work together, this topic continues to be a divisive one that only further divides  communities. Webb City School District has great empathy for our medical health professionals and are always willing to have a conversation with them regarding the safety and well-being of our students and staff.”

Webb City Back to School plan.

East Newton

The East Newton School district says their current back-to-school plan makes face masks voluntary. But, the school board is set to meet Thursday night to vote on the plan, and Superintendent Ron Mitchell says the letter will be discussed at the district.

Carl Junction

Not unlike many other districts in the 4-states, Carl Junction is starting school with policies that make masking voluntary. Superintendent Phil Cook declined an on-camera interview on Wednesday, saying that he “doesn’t appreciate the way that this was handled.”

District Public Relations Director Tracie Skaggs says she received the letter at around 7:15 p.m. Tuesday night, and that she saw it that evening by chance. She goes on to say the district wants everyone to wear masks and be “responsible bulldogs.”

Carl Junction Back to School plan.

Kansas School Mentioned in Universal Masking Letter

In the Galena School District, masking is voluntary as well. However, Superintendent Trey Moeller says Wednesday was the fifth day of school, and they have not had any evidence of Covid spreading in the schools at this point. He also explains he didn’t receive the letter until 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

“We appreciate their concern and take the info under advisement like we do all information that we try to weigh when making decisions on school and mitigating the spread. As a school in Cherokee County, we are regularly and often are in contact with the health department and having conversations about ways to mitigate the spread of Covid. They are paying attention to all the different possibilities, collaborating with the health department, and trying to make the decision the best they can,” says Moeller.

Galena Back to School plan.

Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School on Masking

Officials with Thomas Jefferson explain they do have a mandatory masking policy.

“We do require all students and staff to wear masks (regardless of vaccination status) when arriving, departing, and transitioning between classrooms. The only time masks are optional is when students are settled in their classroom where there is appropriate spacing,” explains Media Relations Manager Robert Carlson.

Other Schools

Related stories:

Physicians implore area schools to require universal masking

Doctors discuss letter imploring local schools to implement universal masking