PELLA — The Pella Community School District will require all students and staff to wear face masks for the upcoming academic year.
Superintendent Greg Ebeling says the decision was based on recommendations from Pella Regional Health Center and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which shows increased evidence of masks slowing the spread of COVID-19. The decision was also based on projections provided by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
With continued easing of current mandates and lack of masks, daily infections in the state are projected to rise to 2,173 by Nov. 1, according to IHME’s data. If masks were worn universally, data shows daily infections would decrease to 143 by Nov. 1. On Tuesday afternoon, the state announced 216 new positive COVID-19 cases.
“Their projections show how impactful masks actually could be,” says Ebeling. “What we’re hoping for as we get all of our students together with masks, is that we don’t see an increase in COVID cases. We can contain some of that spread.”
However, Ebeling knows mandatory masks won’t be easy to implement for grades K-3.
“I’m not a huge fan of masks, and I’m being honest with you when I say I’m not,” says Ebeling. “I believe there is a huge part of communication that is through your smile, your facial expressions. I’m worried about the non-verbal communication and smiles that teachers have that masks hide. Smiling and mouthing words are important for kids that aren’t quite there yet, and they can’t see that. Those are the hard parts for me.”
Ultimately, Ebeling hopes wearing masks will slow the spread of COVID-19 in schools. In this case, he hopes mandatory masks will not be a “long-term thing.”
“It’s easier to start more restrictive and ease it off than to start less restrictive and then try to implement more restrictions,” says Ebeling.
Currently, the district plans to offer on-site learning with an off-site option for students who are most vulnerable or do not feel comfortable going back to school. On July 24, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a proclamation that requires schools to conduct at least half of their instruction in-person.
The district conducted a "return to learn" survey for families, and so far, about 90% have responded. Of the 90%, approximately 7.5% of families will have some of their children learning on-site and some learning off-site. About 5% of students will be earning off-site. According to Ebeling, less than 100 families are left to respond.
The first day of school is set for Aug. 20.