School will resume with masks recommended – not mandated

There will be a small number of all-mask classes to satisfy parental requests 

Webb City R-7 students will be going back to school on Monday, Aug. 23, with masks recommended when they’re in the classroom.

That’s different from last year when wearing a mask was mandatory. Even so, Superintendent Tony Rossetti told the School Board Tuesday that “we will do our best” to provide an all-mask classroom for those students whose parents request it.

All 650 staff members and the parents of 4,500 students were given the chance on a survey to say whether they agree with the plan and offer comments.

Although there were only 140 staff and 400 parent surveys filled out, Rossetti took that to mean the majority have confidence what the board decides.

Rossetti credited the idea of offering all-mask classrooms to an email he received from a parent.

Aspects of the plan discussed by board members include:

  • The important thing is for kids to be in school.
  • Being vaccinated will keep students or staff from being quarantined by the Jasper County Health Department. (A vaccination clinic is supposed to be scheduled during the week of Aug. 16.)
  • Wearing masks on buses isn’t a board decision – it’s federal because buses are part of the federal transportation system.
  • Visitors will not be allowed in the schools again this year. That rule may be eased if the infection rate declines. The MUSCLE men group will be allowed to resume greeting students as they arrive at school as long as they don’t go inside and wear masks.

Rossetti noted how things have changed since the COVID-19 delta variant has surged. “Eight weeks ago we weren’t even considering re-enacting the plan.”

He said he hopes the infection trend goes down and precautions can be relaxed, but if they get worse there are provisions in the plan for precautions to be strengthened.

Brenten Byrd, associate superintendent for instructional services, said he hopes this year the district can “shift its focus from keeping kids safe to educating them.”

This is the second year that enrollment has been conducted online only. Byrd said he hopes returning students who have not re-enrolled yet will do so. Those not doing so soon can expect a personal nudge by phone.

He said there are 572 new students who have enrolled, including 301 kindergartners, which are always new. How much the attendance number goes up will depend on how the online enrollment finishes.

There will be virtual learning again this year. Angie Broaddus, former junior high principal, is now the director of virtual learing.

Byrd reported a much lower number of students so far choosing to learn virtually instead of in the classroom. 

A year ago, there were 408 virtual learners. So far this year, only 165 have signed up for virtual learning. Of the 165, 120 are in high school. There were close to 200 last year.

The high school number includes 38 students who will attend two in-person classes and the rest virtually.

Even when COVID-19 isn’t a concern, the district will still offer virtual instruction.

Rossetti said the staff thinks it’s important that every student take at least one virtual class while in high school to become accustomed to interacting online.

The best chance of having enough students for all-mask classrooms is in the middle school, where 14 fifth-grade requests and 26 sixth-grade requests have been received.

The other 60 requests (kindergarten through fourth grade) are scattered by class and building.