Parents challenge school masking policy
Cassville families speak to school board asking to reconsider plan
Three patrons of the Cassville school district spoke Thursday at the school board’s monthly meeting, asking board members to reconsider the district’s month-old masking mandate for students.
Amanda Tucker, parent of two girls at the district was the first to speak. She said Middle School Principal Jimmie Barton said it was none of the parents’ concern on the masking issue from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., because the school is in charge of the kids. Tucker said one of her daughters was sent home for not wearing a mask, then she returned the following day with a doctor’s not saying the child could not mask but could wear a face shield, which is provided by the school.
Tucker said her daughter was given the shield, but her desk was moved into the corner of the classroom and her daughter was intentionally left out of a card game all other children were allowed to play in the class.
“As we were driving home, she said in a soft voice, ‘Mom, my feelings got hurt today,’” Tucker said. “When I asked her why, she said that [the teacher] was playing a card game, and she bypassed Katie in the corner. [My daughter] said she smirked at her as she went by passing out the cards. [My daughter] said she did not get to participate in the game, she just got to sit in the corner feeling like an outcast, in [her] words, ‘a misfit.’”
Tucker asked why the children were playing a card game in the first place, as all the children would be touching the cards and they would not be socially distanced.
Tucker said she has since pulled her daughter out of school and is doing virtual learning now.
“I stand here tonight to tell you that I will not stand by and let my child be hurt and bullied, belittled or discriminated against by a bunch of grown adults,” she told the school board. “I believe education is very important, and you, Cassville, are taking that away from [my child]. so, I ask again for the board to rethink how you treat a kid that is wearing a face shield and do what needs to be done to make sure this type of bullying, mistreating, belittling and discrimination does not happen to another innocent 12-year-old in your school.”
In written correspondence to the board, Tucker asked for answers to nine questions:
• What is modified quarantine?
• Why weren’t the parents notified of the masking mandate?
• Why didn’t the parents receive a copy of the modified quarantine information within the school setting?
• Who voted on the modified quarantine?
• If face shields do not count as a mask, then how are Exeter and Southwest using shields?
• Why is it appropriate to wear a face shield in the crowded hallways but not in the classroom?
• How can each school have different rules for their students when we are all under the Barry County Health Department?
• When as a parent did we lose control of our kids to the school?
• Why is the school board voting on the perimeter of an idea and letting Mr. Asbill and the health department be the final say when they are not elected officials?
Following Tucker, Parker Stumpff, who has a daughter in kindergarten, said he believes it’s a violation of his and his daughter’s rights to be forced to wear a mask.
“My daughter said she did not want to wear a mask because it was hot and she couldn’t breathe,” Stumpff said. “I think anything that happens should be put to parents first, and we should have to sign off.”
Stumpff likened the signing off to when parents sign a permission slip for a field trip. He also compared the masking issue to the abolition of corporal punishment in schools, saying when someone was offended by spanking, it went away.
“We are the voice for our children,” he said. “We hear about things when they come home. And, unless every desk, light and doorknob is disinfected all the time, a lack of masks isn’t the only way kids are spreading germs.
“My daughter gave me her honest opinion, and I have not sent her back to school since. She loves school, but now that she’s being forced to wear a mask, she does not want to go any more.”
Stumpff also said he thinks day-long masking could lead to serious health conditions, especially with children that may have pre-existing conditions like asthma.
“I think [my daughter’s] rights have been violated, and our rights as parents have been violated,” he said.
The final person to address the board was Parker Stumpff’s father, Donnie Stumpff. He said he aimed to be a voice for children when it came to masking.
“I am against government overreach, and in this case, that means the Cassville school district,” he said. “Certain people have made comments that children are in the school’s total control from 8-5, and parents and grandparents have no control. This virus is serious, and I’m not against masking in certain situations. But the flu and other illnesses are also serious.”
Stumpff said different doctors have different opinions on masking effectiveness, and some have told him that wearing a mask 8-12 hours a day could lead to serious lung issues. He asked the board to reconsider forcing children to wear masks when underlying conditions may be present, and to consider the mental health effect of masking and the associated social implications.
“We need to address and fix this, because we are better than this,” he said.
Richard Asbill, Cassville superintendent, submitted responses to Tucker, Parker Stumpff and Donnie Stumpff addressing their written and/or verbal communications to the board.
In the letters to each, Asbill said the district is participating in the modified quarantine authorized by Gov. Mike Parson and the Barry County Health Department, as the district’s goal continues to be providing the safest opportunity for students to continue in-person learning and school experiences.
“The district had for several months sought out options to student quarantine issues and agreed with numerous parents and families seeking safe and appropriate options,” Asbill wrote in his responses. “One of the benefits of modified quarantine is it allows us to continue in-person learning. The district believes that we can provide the in-person high quality education our students deserve while still keeping them (students), our teachers and all our school staff members safe. The district is taking every reasonable attempt to provide social/physical distance options for students who are not masked.
“However, a student who is not masked removes not only their own ability to remain in school but also the other students who are masked.”
Asbill said K-5 masking expectations are different than in grades 6-12, where the majority of quarantine impacts have been felt.
“As we are sure, you can understand COVID-19 has presented the district and all schools with an infinite number of issues for our school personnel to navigate.” Asbill wrote. “The district administration, teachers and staff are doing their absolute best to constantly pivot based on the information received from both the state and federal government, while continuing to serve the students of Cassville R-IV School District.
“Our goal remains constant. Provide the safest opportunity for students to continue in-person learning and school experiences.”
Specifically to Tucker, Asbill answered each of her nine questions submitted to the board.
He included in the response the modified quarantine procedures, the Cassville Return to Learn response plan available since May and an explanation of how it was distributed.
He said the Health department approved the modified quarantine rules, and the school board voted to approve the student mask requirement to comply with modified quarantine procedures.
Face shields, he said, can be used, but do not qualify students or staff for modified quarantine. He also said the district is not aware of any current guidance that would allow for face shields to be used in hallways but not in classrooms.
As for each schools having different rules, he said Parson supports “local control” of policies.
“Each school district is governed by a local board of education who has as political subdivision has the legislative authority to determine individual district policies or decision,” he wrote. “The State or Barry County Health Department can implement state-wide or local decisions.”
Addressing parental control of children, Asbill wrote to Tucker that the district does not seek to “control” children, however, it is responsible for providing free and appropriate educational services to all children.
“A parent/guardian still has the right to choose if they will access public education services through their local school district,” he wrote.
Finally, he noted that each school board would work in conjunction with the Health Department, however the Department is provided legislative duties and authority in many areas including pandemic or health emergency responses. Regarding question No. 9, he submitted the following response per board policy:
“The superintendent of schools shall be the chief executive officer of the Board of Education and the administrative head of all divisions and departments of the Cassville R-IV School District,” he wrote. “The superintendent shall be responsible to the Board for the execution of its policies and regulations. The superintendent shall be the Board’s representative and the channel through which all directives from the Board to its employees or students shall be communicated. The superintendent may also give directives for the management of the school district to employees and students on points not covered by the adopted Board policies and regulations. Such directives shall be valid unless disapproved by the Board. While the Board may wish to periodically review these procedures, the administration has the authority to make modifications to procedures without Board approval, unless otherwise instructed by the Board.”
In his responses to all three that addressed the board, Asbill also included more than 30 pages of policy, guidance and procedural information, as well as some frequently asked questions and informative content regarding masking, quarantining, isolation and other COVID-related issued.
District COVID updates
Cassville reported numerous updates relating to COVID-19, outlining how the first half of the school year went and looking at results of a “Thought Exchange” set up to garner comments from students, staff and the community about masking.
In August and September, 128 students elected to participate in virtual learning full-time. By the end of the semester, that number had fallen to 75, and only 65 are signed up to continue in the second semester.
Since Aug. 15, the district has 41 students and 38 employees test positive for COVID, and 944 students and 45 employees were quarantined, though some of those quarantines were the same people multiple times.
The positives account for 2.2 percent of the district population, and the quarantines account for 50 percent.
Asbill said rates were lower in the lower grade levels, with the middle and high schools suffering the most.
“On any given day, we averaged about 22-28 people quarantined, and we have that down to about 4-5 now,” Asbill said. “Overall, we are looking forward to the second semester and the high school returning to full seated learning on Jan. 5. We believe this is safe, and we can manage it better compared to the previous quarantine restrictions and guidelines.”
Part of the restrictions and guidelines Asbill mentioned are due to a new policy that will allow students to continue going to school if they are contact traced but everyone involved was masked. In November, the district passed a masking mandate to be able to use the new guidelines, and staff posted a “Thought Exchange” board to garner public opinion on the switch.
The exchange asked one question: What are your thoughts on student masking requirements?
In total, 663 people participated in the exchange, sharing 701 thoughts, as people could submit multiple. About 52 percent (330) were parents, 21 percent (135) were students, 19 percent (119) were staff, and 8 (53) percent were community members. Participants could then rate thoughts, with 15,647 ratings submitted, an average of 23 per participant.
Of polar opposite viewpoints, 172 were in Side A, supporting masking, and 145 were in Side B, saying it should be a family choice. Of those polar opposites, Side A was the larger group among staff members (50-19), students (34-27) and community members (15-10). For parents, however, Side B was more popular (89-73).
The polar opposite groups accounted for about 48 percent of the total participants. The remaining 52 percent fell somewhere in the middle of the masking opinions.
The exchange was open for about two weeks after Thanksgiving break, and the district plans to use the platform again going forward.