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Harrison County, Missouri, school districts prepare for new mask mandate to take effect

5 districts in county don't have have mandates
South Harrison Middle School.png
Posted at 5:00 PM, Dec 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-14 23:28:23-05

HARRISON COUNTY, Mo. — Most schools around the Kansas City area have mask mandates in place to fight the spread of COVID-19. But others don’t require masks on campus at all.

Harrison County, Missouri has five school districts: North and South Harrison, Cainsville, Ridgeway and Gilman City. As of Dec. 14, none of them have mask mandates on campus.

But that’s about to change. On Thursday, Dec. 10, the Harrison County Health Department Board voted to implement a countywide mask policy. That policy, which goes into effect on Thursday, will require the county's school districts to comply.

“We're like any other community,” South Harrison Superintendent Dennis Eastin said. “There are some that believe in mandates, some that do not believe in mandates.”

Eastin said the school board chose no mandate in August when school began. Since then, roughly 500 quarantine orders have been issued for students and staff.

Ridgeway is a much smaller district, with fewer than 100 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The district has gone to an all-virtual model twice this year.

“Once it was, we had a couple of positive cases in the school and in the area, so we were hoping to shut everything down, get everything clean, try to prevent for a longer period of time,” Jonnie Beavers, Ridgeway R-V School District superintendent, said. “And then this last one we had several cases in the community, so we shut down for seven days.”

Beavers, who was on quarantine herself when she spoke to 41 Action News, estimated that 80% of parents and staff members in Ridgeway don't support a mask mandate. She based that estimation on a community survey conducted at the beginning of the semester.

“These students are still doing things after school together,” Beavers said. “You know, it's a small town. They're going to go to ball games. They're going to go do things, where there's not mandates to wear a mask.”

Beavers told 41 Action News the district will comply with the new mask mandate, and that the board has not had time yet to review any policies for students who choose not to wear a mask on campus.

COVID-19 had a more pronounced effect on Gilman City R-IV School District. The campus already is closed for the remainder of the fall semester.

"It was the number of quarantines,” Gilman City Superintendent Roger Alley said. “We went into Thanksgiving break, with virtually no students out whatsoever. I think at that point we'd had maybe three close contacts. We came back, and just had a rush of cases. I think when we shut down we were right around 40 kids out, and several staff members as well. We just couldn't endure that."

Gilman City has fewer than 150 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

In November, Governor Mike Parson announced new guidelines for schools and masks: if both individuals at school - the person diagnosed with COVID-19 and the person exposed to the positive case - have masks on and are wearing them correctly, the individual exposed does not need to quarantine.