The Mehlville Board of Education reaffirmed its stance last month to require face coverings inside all district facilities and transportation for all students, staff and visitors regardless of vaccination status.
The Board of Education unanimously voted Aug. 19 to re-adopt a resolution that requires face coverings inside all Mehlville schools for everyone until further notice, after first adopting the resolution at a special meeting Aug. 5.
Part of the reason the board chose to readopt the resolution was the implementation of a new state law that limits public health orders. House Bill 271 prohibits local officials from issuing public health orders or restrictions that close schools, businesses or places of worship beyond 30 days during a state of emergency. Orders can only be extended by a majority vote of the local governing body. If the state is not in a state of emergency, orders can only last for 21 days before a vote of the governing body. Gov. Mike Parson ended Missouri’s existing state of emergency Aug. 27.
“There’s just ambiguity in whether it (HB 271) applies to schools or not,” Superintendent Chris Gaines said at the Aug. 19 board meeting. “You have law firms that say it absolutely does not and … you got law firms that say we’re really not sure if it applies to schools.”
Gaines said if the board were to operate as though the legislation applied to them, they would have to work in additional meetings to review the mask order every 21 days.
“If we believe that House Bill 271 applies, in order to make it to the next meeting, we need the board to consider the resolution again,” said Gaines.
The Board of Education holds its monthly meetings on the third Thursday of the month, with the next regular monthly meeting scheduled for Sept. 16. If the board has to convene every 21 days to review the masking order, an additional meeting would be required Sept. 9, as well as the addition of five meetings through the end of the semester on top of the regular meetings. No meeting was scheduled for Sept. 9 at press time.
Board President Kevin Schartner asked what metrics could be used to determine when masks could become optional for students, staff and visitors, like vaccination rates and community transmission rates of the virus.
“Currently our metric to go mask optional is just the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and positivity rate,” said Gaines. “We want to take a look at and try to gather vaccination status a little bit more deeply to see if that could become another trigger” to make masks optional.
The resolution passed and re-passed by the board requires masking for everyone inside all district facilities and transportation, with the recourse to make masks optional for grades seventh through 12th when CDC metrics for moderate community transmission are met for three consecutive days. Moderate transmission is defined as 10 to 49 cases per 100,000.
Masks could be made optional for pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade students when the metrics for low transmission are met for three consecutive days. Low transmission is zero to nine cases per 100,000.
Gaines said that in the weeks leading up to the Aug. 19 meeting the community had been in a high transmission rate.
“There is kind of this eerily mirroring of what was happening at this time last year,” said Gaines, referring to when the district started 2020-2021 virtually because of positivty rates. “We’ve certianly seen some spread.”