R-III School District requiring face masks for fall semester

Derrick Forsythe
Staff Writer

Students returning to campus for fall semester within the Warren County R-III School District will be required to wear a mask if they are in the third grade or above.

The R-III School Board met July 23 to revise and approve its reopening plan amidst COVID-19 with the most recent data available. The decision was made during that meeting to alter the plan from encouraging the use of masks to requiring face coverings.

“We had a tentative plan and worked through it with the board to decide what is best for the community,” said Superintendent Dr. Gregg Klinginsmith. “We use these work session to come together and collaborate and make revisions.”

With several dozen district employees in attendance in the high school commons, board members addressed the need for masks in the buildings, along with related topics. Board member Dr. Chad Smith opened the discussion with medical insight about the efficacy of masks.

“If we’re going to have an opportunity for a successful school year, I think wearing masks is going to be necessary in having the lowest amount of infectious disease,” said Smith. “I think it’s one of the key components to being successful.”

The matter of discipline was discussed as well, in how the district will respond to students who show up to school not wearing a mask. If the student is in need of a face covering, R-III is able to supply those, at least in the opening weeks. The district has approximately 8,000 masks on hand for the first day of school, which is scheduled for Aug. 25.

“Students will not be disciplined for not wearing a mask,” said Klinginsmith. “We have excellent building principals who will try to get to the root understanding of why a student is not wearing and see what solutions we can come up with.”

Ultimately, if a student refuses to wear a mask, he or she will not be allowed in the building and instead will be transitioned to the virtual learning method. Klinginsmith said around 20 percent of the students enrolled in high school have already opted for that distance learning environment.

Families have the choice of how they would prefer for children to learn — in the physical classroom or virtually — but Klinginsmith said the district encourages a commitment to that learning style through the end of the semester.

“It looks like the majority of kids are wanting to come to school,” said Klinginsmith. “It also looks like we will be able to adjust where elementary level teachers can go from in-classroom to also providing virtual content.”

It will be an adjustment process for everyone across the district, as staff through all levels will be required to wear a mask. The only exception is for bus drivers wearing glasses, so as not to impede their vision for driving safely.

R-III is exploring ways to provide breaks from the masks, and they will not be required during lunch or outside time, such as physical education or recess.

“We realize it will be difficult to wear a mask the entire school day, so we will give opportunities for students to remove masks occasionally,” said Klinginsmith.

There are still many discussions to be had and decisions to be made as it relates to the wearing of masks and other safety measures.

In general, the district is discouraging the presence of the public within the building to prevent contact and asks that caregivers avoid walking their children to class if possible. Students will be asked to limit the amount of items brought from home and decrease use of backpacks within the classrooms. Use of water fountains will also be reduced, as students are encouraged to bring water bottles from home to prevent cross contact through common surfaces.

The district will not be screening each student for symptoms as they arrive, but is instead relying on families to self-monitor and use sound judgment in whether to send a child to school.

“We would like for parents to self-screen their children before the student comes to school each morning,” said Klinginsmith, who shared an updated list of COVID-19 symptoms with those in attendance. “We will be relying heavily on our school nurses to monitor students as well.”

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