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District superintendent could soon implement temporary mask requirements for Sioux City schools

Superintendent Paul Gausman said the proposed emergency masking protocol could help schools to remain open at a press conference on Thursday.
Kendall Crawford
Superintendent Paul Gausman said the proposed emergency masking protocol could help schools to remain open at a press conference on Thursday.

Sioux City school officials are considering giving their district’s superintendent the authority to institute a temporary mask requirement for schools.

With coronavirus cases rising in Woodbury County, the district is looking at a new mitigation strategy to curb the spread of the Omicron variant. If the school board approves the measure on Monday, superintendent Paul Gausman would be able to mandate masks for a short period of time at individual schools.

“I know that a lot of people have opinions about masks and I’m not here to argue about that,” Gausman said. “I’m simply saying if the board gives me this authority we’ll look when the numbers start to climb and put mitigation strategies into place to keep that building open.”

The proposal would revise the school’s emergency protocol policy, AR907, to include masks as an option for addressing public health emergencies. Masks would be instituted with a time-limit once schools reach a yet-to-be-determined percentage of positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff.

Gausman predicts the mask mandates would only be in place for a week at a time. After the first week, he said he would reevalute case numbers.

The proposal comes as Sioux City schools struggle to keep coronavirus cases down. Last week, 200 students tested positive for the virus. Over 100 staff members also contracted COVID-19, making up 4.5 percent of all staff members in the district.

Throughout Woodbury County, coronavirus infections continue to surge. Nearly 2,200 new cases were reported last week, according to the Siouxland District Health Department. Overall, the county has a 14-day positivity rate of 31.7 percent.

Gausman said the district needs to shift its safety protocols to avoid school closures. He said curbing infections among staff is the best way to keep students in the classroom.

“I do suspect that everyone would agree with me that school needs to be open. And because of that, we’re going to have to do some things to try and keep them open,” he said.

In the past, the SCCSD school board refused to implement a district-wide mask mandate, as suggested by school board member Monique Scarlett. But, Gausman said he believes board members will approve of the temporary nature of the upcoming proposed protocol.

The board will vote on Monday on whether to move forward with the change.

Kendall was Iowa Public Radio’s western Iowa reporter based in Sioux City, IA until Jan. 20, 2023.