HANNIBAL | In July, the Hannibal Board of Education unanimously approved a school reopening plan with the understanding that it will likely be revised as the COVID situation changes. In August, the school board declined to act on two attempts to revise the plan.
Leading the attempt to revise the plan was school board member J'Nelle Lee.
“My concern is our back to school plan is not requiring masks for (all) students,” she said. “Cloth face coverings are meant to protect other people. By just requiring teachers to wear them, I feel that teachers are protecting our students, but are our students trying to protect our teachers?
“If teachers aren't there (school) we can't learn. If our schools don't have teachers we can't do anything. That is concerning to me.” Superintendent Susan Johnson noted that at tier three of four-tier system, when the COVID-19 virus is spreading in the community at an accelerated rate, students in grades four through 12 would be required to wear a mask any time they could not utilize social distancing and be 6 feet or more from others. In that situation students in the third grade and younger would be “highly encouraged” to wear a mask.
Lee proposed revising the district's back to school plan so that all students in kindergarten through the 12th grade will be required to wear a face mask in all situations.
“I think it's something small we could ask of our students,” Lee said.
Board member Michael Holliday did not think requiring the district's youngest students to wear a mask at all times would be feasible.
“We are going to have our elementary teachers at the lower levels having to try and explain to these very young children why they are going to keep a mask on through the day,” he said. “That is a lot for our elementary teachers to try to figure out. It's hard enough to try to get them (youngest students) to sit in one place, let alone keep a mask on all day.”
Lee's motion requiring all students to wear a face mask died for lack of a second. The same fate befell another Lee motion that would have given teachers the freedom in their classroom to decide if students had to wear a face mask or not.
“I don't agree with that,” Holliday said. “I think we have to be consistent across the board with whatever we are going to decide.”
Board member Mark Bross questioned the potential liability that teachers could face if such freedom was granted. “I'm not sure they (teachers) recognize the magnitude of that decision,” he said. “It is bothersome to me that we could have individual teachers who want to make that decision for those students. I think we would be opening a can of worms.”
Lee encouraged her fellow board members to do what they can to support the district's certified staff.
“If our teachers feel safer coming back to school that is going to help them and help our students because our ultimate goal is to have students in the classroom with our teachers,” she said.
Johnson believes that teachers are a top priority of the school district.
“We are trying to make teachers as comfortable as we possibly can. That is a concern of mine, too. I know we need our teachers. I want our teachers to be happy. I worry about morale,” she said. “We do care about their safety.”