School board lowers bus capacity, sticks with voluntary face masks

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The Perry School Board, from left, Vice President Linda Andorf, President Kyle Baxter and Director Casey Baldwin, were joined by PCSD Business Manager Kent Bultman and PCSD Superintendent Clark Wicks at Wednesday's noon meeting. The table in the foreground was reserved for Directors Kenia Alarcon and Jim Lutmer, who both were absent.

With the start of fall classes one week away, the Perry Community School District Board of Directors meet at midday Wednesday in order to modify the district’s Return to Learn (R2L) Plan among other matters.

In its first monthly review of the R2L Plan first approved July 13, the board unanimously agreed to reduce the maximum capacity of school buses from 77 riders to 49 riders, with the lower number permitting students to sit two to a seat instead of three.

“The more I thought about that and investigated that situation, I just feel more comfortable having two students to a seat as opposed the three,” said PCSD Superintendent Clark Wicks.

In order to maintain but not exceed the 49-rider capacity, in-town families are strongly encouraged to drive their students to school themselves instead of using the in-town bus. Wicks

“The big message today,” Wicks said, “as we navigate through COVID-19, everybody’s got to be on board to help out where possible. So I’m asking all in-town parents to bring their kids as much as they possibly can so that we keep the buses at two per seat.”

All students riding the Perry buses will be required to wear face coverings. At all other times during the course of the school day, face coverings are not required but “highly recommended,” and social distancing will be “encouraged” and practiced “as much as possible,” according to the language of the R2L Plan.

“People are all over the board with masks both scientifically as well as strong desires for having one or the other,” Wicks said. He said he surveyed 21 schools in the Des Moines metro area and in the Heartland Area Education Agency and found nine have mandatory mask policies and 12 have voluntary mask policies.

PCSD School Board Vice President Linda Andorf said she was concerned about areas, such as classrooms and hallways, where social distancing will often not be possible. She said 14 of 21 teachers surveyed favored a mandatory mask policy.

“There’s no easy answer,” Andorf said. “I get that. And I’m not sure what you do when you say, ‘Okay, we’ve required it but then it’s a matter of how do you enforce it? how do you monitor that?’ Because if I say, ‘You have to wear a mask in my room,’ and a kid tells me, ‘No, I’m not going to. My mom says I didn’t have to.’ I mean, what are you going to do then?”

Andorf noted many large businesses now require customers to wear masks, but she still sees people without masks in such stores.

“Monitoring is going to be exceptionally difficult and enforcing it,” she said. “My biggest concern is hallways.”

Wicks said the Perry schools will have the cleanest air in Iowa as a result of the needlepoint bipolar ionization technology installed in the three school buildings.

“Here in Perry, more than any other school district in the state,” Wicks said, “our air will be as clean and as pure as any in the state.”┬áThe discussion also touched on placing plexiglass dividers between students and on the current supplies of face masks, face shields and cleaning supplies.

At length, PCSD Director Casey Baldwin moved approval of the modified R2L Plan, and Andorf seconded to motion but with a “reservation on the mask issue.” She said she was still concern about not requiring masks.

“Truly, I sit very much on the fence as to whether or not we should recommend or highly encourage as far as requiring them,” she said. “I do think we need to get kids back to school, and then hopefully we will see more kids wearing masks.”

The motion carried unanimously, with Board President Kyle Baxter concurring with the majority. Directors Kenia Alarcon and Jim Lutmer were absent. No members of the public addressed the board. Baxter and Baldwin declined to comment on the issue of face masks following the meeting.

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