Wagner returns to school, board compromises on masks


WAGNER — After multiple meetings that featured contentious debate over a mask mandate from the Wagner Community School Board of Education and community members, the matter was resolved quickly and quietly Monday.

The board voted without opposition to implement a mask mandate when social distancing was not an option, an idea discussed at an Oct. 8 special meeting. Kids are now required to wear masks in hallways and in situations where they are split into small groups during classroom work.

A universal mask mandate was approved by the board by a 4-3 vote on Sept. 16, but community backlash caused the vote to be rescinded the following day in a 5-1 vote. According to the Sept. 17 meeting minutes, 28 community members spoke. On Monday, fewer than 20 community members were in attendance and none chose to exercise time for public comment. None of the board members offered a comment on the matter either.

“When you’re trying to get things in place for kids, people are passionate about things for their kids,” Wagner Superintendent Shad Storley said. “It was a culmination of listening to the public and making decisions going forward.”

The school board also voted unanimously Monday to return to in-person classes after eight students and two staff members tested positive for COVID-19 and more than 100 students were quarantined due to close contacts. Charles Mix County currently has significant community spread, with an average of four people per day testing positive, according to Wagner Indian Health Services nurse practitioner Melody Otte.


Storley said there was little pushback on mask implementation when school resumed session Tuesday, although there are three active cases linked to the school and 11 kids are currently in quarantine.

“The things that we have had in place for students and staff, they have been following,” Storely said. “Hopefully by implementing the masking when we can’t be socially distanced from one another is one more step so that we don’t have to go distance learning for two weeks again. But there’s no crystal ball.”

Return-to-school discussions focused on quarantine length

Wagner will opened in Phase 2, which sees students in school four days per week, while distance learning on Wednesdays. The board voted to revisit the plan at the next board meeting on Nov. 9.

The biggest discussion in return-to-school procedures centered around quarantine time. Because many kids are not showing symptoms until the fifth or sixth day after contracting the virus, the question of a seven-day quarantine following signs of symptoms was offered.

When asked by the board, Otte reiterated that 14 days was the “gold standard,” according to the Centers of Disease Prevention and Control and the World Health Organization.

Otte also cited a recent study by Purdue University, which was backed by research from China and France, that called kids “super transmitters” because of a tendency to contract COVID-19, despite not showing symptoms.

“These kids are typically not showing symptoms,” Otte said. “They’re asymptomatic and they can still be positive. You or I are just older and our immune systems just are not as good as theirs are. We’ll probably be symptomatic at Day Five or Day Six and absolutely by Day 11. These young kids just aren’t showing symptoms.”

Multiple board members were uncomfortable with the amount of school days missed by kids who were considered close contacts, particularly those that ultimately did not or appeared to not contract COVID-19.


“I’m no doctor and I’m no scientist,” board member Brad Lhotak said, “but to me logical thinking says if you are going to quarantine these kids for 14 days and they don’t become positive until day 13, no symptoms, you’re still looking at 10 days where that kid can catch the virus anyway.”

Otte agreed that it is important for kids to be in school, she once again cited significant community spread and suggested the board revisit reducing quarantine time when cases were no longer rampant in the area, advice the board eventually heeded unanimously.

“We’re still considered by the Department of Health to have significant community spread in the area,” Otte said. “So, not following the gold standard probably isn’t the best idea right now. In a couple weeks or a month, when we’re not at significant risk, you can have that conversation again.”

Lhotak was also vocal in revisiting the idea of reducing the quarantine time at a future meeting when more data was available, referencing other schools, but not offering specific circumstances, in which the quarantine time was seven days.

“There is no perfect answer here. We’ve got to do our best to keep these kids in school,” Lhotak said. “I’m not putting the cart in front of the horse and saying we need a seven-day quarantine, but there are a lot of schools doing this currently. In a month or two, if those schools aren’t having any problems, I want kids’ behinds in school. I will definitely reconsider.”

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