A work session of the Western Dubuque School Board Nov.8 concerning COVID-19 school safety procedures in the district may have created more questions than answers.
The district has used a 3% threshold to determine whether masks are required in district buildings. That threshold was put in place earlier this fall when the district saw a dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases at Western Dubuque High School that officials believe may have developed following homecoming activities.
Currently, Western Dubuque High School and Farley Elementary School are in a mask mandate. Superintendent Rick Colpitts told the board he expects Peosta Elementary to be in a mask mandate by the end of the week.
Colpitts said cases this fall have been different from what officials saw last year. “Last fall when we saw a case, it was pretty well isolated. What we are finding now is that often when there is a COVID case in a household, it actually goes through everybody in the household. That has happened with several staff members and their families and we are seeing it with several students,” he said.
Colpitts said the district’s 3% threshold was taken from other larger districts in the state. He told the board they may want to look at a different number and format.
“What is our common sense approach? If we hit 3% today and put a mask mandate in tomorrow and have six kids return to the building, now we are down below the 3%. So what is our common sense threshold for determining when we go to a mask mandate and how long we stay? Would it make sense to look at a different percentage?”
“I struggle with guessing at a number,” board member Mark Tilson replied. “We are trying to make data-driven decisions. Whether it’s 3% or 5%, it’s just a number.”
Tilson suggested helping students get the vaccine that has now become available. “I think we should talk about what we can do to facilitate vaccines for students. Obviously, it’s the parents’ choice as to whether their children get vaccinated, but we could just make it available.”
Colpitts said district buildings could be used for vaccine clinics after hours. “We can get some of those scheduled. We will contact some pharmacies about coming in.”
A COVID-19 dashboard on the district website reports positive cases throughout the district. Colpitts said a building’s 3% threshold isn’t reported on the dashboard for now.
“I was waiting for this meeting and for board action before reporting that,” he explained after the meeting. “Until the board officially decides what the number is, it’s a little premature. I’ll report it once they decide.” He went on to explain that buildings that are mandated to wear masks know what their percentage is.
The district may allow masks due to a federal judge granting a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of Iowa’s ban on school mask requirements in early October.
“If the temporary restraining order is removed, then masks in schools would be a violation of the law,” Colpitts said. “We haven’t heard anything from the Governor’s office, but know they have appealed the decision and are waiting for the appellate court to meet and decide what to do. At some point, someone will communicate to us what has happened. If that law is put back in effect, then for us to mandate masks would go against the law.”
No action was taken by the board. It’s expected the issue will come up during the board meeting Tuesday, Nov. 16, following the certification of the school board election by Dubuque County Supervisors Monday, Nov. 15.