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Oswego School District 308 OKs COVID-19 safety plan, mask policy in separate, unanimous votes

The Oswego School District 308 Board of Education approved the COVID-19 safety plan and student mask policy for the coming school year in separate, unanimous votes during a special meeting Thursday evening, Aug. 12, at Oswego East High School.

According to the student mask policy, presented as an information item to the board for a first reading, “students who refuse to wear a face mask properly, covering the nose and mouth, are subject to discipline that may include detention, in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, and expulsion during the pendency of the directive to wear face masks while at school.”

Currently “when required by the Safety Plan or a mandate,” district students must wear an appropriate face mask over their nose and mouth at all times while in district school buildings and on district transportation.

Face masks are not required to be worn while outside on school property and may be removed for limited periods of time to allow students to eat and drink, according to the policy.

“In general,” the policy said, “all students in a school building must wear a cloth face mask unless they have a medical contraindication, have trouble breathing or are unconscious, incapacitated or unable to remove the face mask without assistance.” Grants and accommodations will be made on a case-by-case basis.

Slight changes were made to the district’s safety plan between the board’s Aug. 9 meeting and Aug. 12 meeting, based on feedback received at the Aug. 9 meeting. As at the Aug. 9 meeting, some district parents and students came to Thursday’s meeting to speak both for and against the plan and mask policy.

The main change comes in the district’s lunch plan, and will enforce social distancing at all grade levels.

According to the plan, elementary school lunch spaces will be “designated at least three feet from individuals,” while lunch spaces for junior high and high school students will be socially distanced “to the maximum allowable in the physical space, with a goal of 3 feet or more between individuals.”

Board President Donna Marino said that the changes were made in the best interest of students, and to make the district’s plan “consistent” at all grade levels.

While there was no discussion with the two votes, board member Eugene Gatewood explained his reasoning for supporting the plan and policy.

“I don’t think that there’s a person in the world, and not just in our community, that does not want all of this to be over,” Gatewood said.

Gatewood, who encouraged the board to continue to follow guidelines from state and federal health agencies, told the board and audience that he personally knows families that have struggled with the social, emotional and mental results of wearing masks, remote learning, and social distancing.

“But on the other hand, COVID is not just deadly,” something Gatewood said he knew “personally.”

“It’s a reality that attacks the body in ways that are still being discovered, in adults and in children,” he continued, referencing studies that have discovered the long-term affects of COVID-19 on children including headaches, fatigue, heart palpitations, and “brain fog.”

As he considered the proposed safety plan, Gatewood said that he had several questions, in order to consider the safety of all kids in the district, “mask or no mask.”

Oswego School District 308 Board of Education member Eugene Gatewood explained his reasoning behind supporting a mask policy and safety plan for the 2021-2022 school year during the Aug. 12 special meeting of the board.

Oswego School District 308 Board of Education member Eugene Gatewood explained his reasoning behind supporting a mask policy and safety plan for the 2021-2022 school year during the Aug. 12 special meeting of the board. (Shea Lazansky/)

“What can and should parents do to take responsibility for their own kid’s safety at home, but also the safety of others when out in our community? How do I partner with parents as a school board member to make sure that all parents can be safe?,” Gatewood asked. “Is it possible, no matter how small, is it possible for kids ages 5-17, 5-18, 4-18 to transmit COVID?

“For me, having to support a child’s emotional and mental health after losing a parent, a grandparent or a loved one…to me that could be far more detrimental than the temporary consequences of the season that we’re going through right now,” he continued.

“As I think about the basis for my decision, I must be consistent so that I can use those same guidelines throughout this crisis, and that will help me as a leader to set benchmarks to make predictions and even adjustments if I make missteps – because I know I’m not perfect because I’m human,” he said.

“All of these things have to be taken into consideration.”

The district will begin the new school year Wednesday, Aug. 18.

The complete policy and plan can be found on the district’s BoardDocs account.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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