Board votes to increase mandatory mask threshold

Masking threshold raised from 1 percent to 1.5 percent

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By Erin Achenbach, News Editor

The Mehlville Board of Education voted last Thursday to increase the masking requirement threshold in school buildings from 1 percent to 1.5 percent. 

The Board of Education voted 5-2 Feb. 3 to increase the threshold that outlines when mandated masking is implemented on a per-building basis. The previous threshold required mandatory masking for at least 10 school days in buildings where positive cases over the course of any week exceed 1 percent of a building’s population; the board voted to increase that threshold to 1.5 percent. Board President Kevin Schartner, Vice President Peggy Hassler, Tori Behlke and Patrick McKelvey voted in favor of the change; Larry Felton and Jeff Wolman were against.

In addition to the increased threshold, the resolution approved by the board also allows teachers and staff to go mask-optional when their building goes mask-optional. Previously, the resolution required universal masking for staff regardless of their building’s masking status. 

Masks continue to be required on buses, pursuant with a federal mandate.

“We seem to have somewhat turned a corner around employee challenges and substitute challenges. Now don’t get me wrong, we still have departments that are 80 to 85-percent staffed … but we aren’t where we were a couple of weeks ago in terms of struggling to make things work every day,” Superintendent Chris Gaines said of the decision to remove the universal masking requirement for staff. 

In December, the board had voted on the resolution to move to a “mask-recommended” environment for all students at the start of the second semester in January, but all buildings have been masked since due to being over the 1-percent threshold. 

“I’m a little bit concerned about going in and out of mask required and mask optional or mask recommended and doing that when it’s not a true breakout … when it’s between the one and the one and a half,” Schartner said. “There’s another part that kind of plays into this too. … Omicron is different. … It’s much more transmissible, much more airborne. … A person has to be more deliberate about what they’re wearing. … So in looking at that and also looking at the fact that we’re coming down, we’re coming out of this … If we don’t have to have masks mandatory, then I don’t think we should.” 

The 1.5 percent threshold matches that of Lindbergh Schools, who also voted in December to move to a mask-optional environment. However, all buildings in Lindbergh have been masked since due to being over the 1.5 percent threshold. 

“I’m still drawn to the fact that if you look at the community numbers, we’re still in the 500 to 600 range. I’d feel a lot better raising the percentage if we were down in the 200s,” Felton countered. “We’re still at 550 to 600 so I have a difficult time moving to the 1 percent.” 

As of Feb. 7, masks were required at Hagemann and Wohlwend Elementaries, and optional in all other buildings through Feb. 11.