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School COVID-19 guidelines: optional masks, no contact tracing

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The Carroll Community School District's current “Return to Learn” plan addressing COVID-19 guidelines for the upcoming school year includes optional masks, no contact tracing, continued sanitizing procedures and no social-distancing guidelines.

The plan, which the Carroll School Board unanimously approved Monday, follows guidance from the state, including a law banning mask mandates, Carroll Schools Superintendent Casey Berlau said at Monday's school board meeting.

One exception to the mask plan: They'll be required on school buses, in keeping with a federal executive order requiring face coverings on public transportation. Various discussions have determined that school buses would fall under that requirement, Berlau said.

That said, enforcement will be a challenge, he said.

“With (face coverings) being optional in the buildings, it's going to be a humongous challenge to enforce (the bus requirement),” Berlau said. “It's important for the board, for the community to understand, we won't put our drivers in situations where they argue or don't let people on the bus (without masks). … We know that we're going to have situations where kids are not going to be wearing them on buses, and it's going to be hard for us to manage that.”

He added that school officials and bus drivers won't be handing out masks this year; students and staff members wearing them will need to supply their own.

Another change between last school year and this one is the removal of contact tracing, a process through which Carroll County Public Health worked with the school, parents and students to determine who an infected student or staff member might have come into contact with, a process that led to a quarantine period. This year, COVID-19 will be treated more like other illnesses, Berlau said.

“Nobody's required to tell us if they test positive or anything else, so we're not necessarily going to know,” Berlau said. “It will be a parent's decision on whether they keep their kids out for 10 days or not (as was the policy for positive cases last year).”

The school won't track COVID-19 data this year, although it will retain its policy of reporting to Carroll County Public Health if student absences reach 10 percent. That benchmark wouldn't automatically lead to a school closure, Berlau said, but the district would work with Public Health to determine next steps.

Schools will continue to have hand sanitizer available and will continue its more-stringent sanitizing procedures — perhaps not as often as last year, but still more often than pre-COVID times, Berlau said.

Lunchtime will look normal this year, he noted. Staff members will encourage students to wash their hands before and after lunch and recess, and open campus will be available for students in 11th and 12th grades.

Mask usage and social distancing will be optional at extracurricular events, unless state guidelines change.

“I feel like this is pretty well lined up with what the State of Iowa has said through Public Health, the governor, the legislature — it's in line with those things, and that's the plan for school starting August 25,” Berlau said.

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