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Ottumwa school Superintendent reacts to mask mandate ban overruling

Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 8:39 PM CDT
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OTTUMWA, Iowa (KYOU) - At Monday night’s Ottumwa’s school board meeting, Superintendent Mike McGrory brought the recent judge’s overruling of Iowa’s mask mandate ban before the board. He recommended the board take no action until a more permanent ruling is in place. “We really don’t know how that’s going to play out. That could change a week from now, that could change two weeks, it could stay. So I think it would be prudent on our part to see how this will play out.”

Meanwhile, students in Ottumwa schools are starting their fourth week of school. As county-wide COVID-19 cases are reaching levels not seen since January, Iowa State Education Association President Mike Beranek says keeping students from wearing mask is “hurting our children.”

Recent public health data shows 27% of new cases in Wapello County are from the 0-17 age group. Inside the schools themselves, Superintendent Mike McGrory has seen only about a quarter of students are wearing masks. “At first we didn’t know what we’d expect - what percent of our students would be wearing masks. And honestly it’s probably lower than I thought it would be.”

Now, while the new overruling for mask mandates could bring them back to schools, which McGrory says worked well last year, with no required social distancing and less virtual learning - things still look different than last year.

Another change - removing the COVID-19 dashboard from the Ottumwa School website. Last year, the district broke down the number of students and staff in quarantine, from specific schools, as well as daily positive tests.

Now, it’s gone. Other local district websites have removed their dashboards as well. The President of the National Education Association, Becky Pringle, says that kind of public info is integral.

But Superintendent McGrory says that information is limited without contact tracing from public health. “It’s really hard to do that if contact tracing isn’t going on, so that’s why most school districts haven’t done that this year.”

However, McGrory says around 1 to 2 percent of the student population are currently out because of COVID. While quarantines hampered efforts last year to keep students in school, now that they’re in school, President Pringle says the fight still isn’t over.

“It’s about keeping them, keeping them in our school buildings. And the only way we can do is to ensure they are safe. And the only way we can do that is to have the data to make informed decisions.”

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