ST. GEORGE — Just two days into the Washington County School District’s fall semester, Gov. Gary Herbert issued a new order regarding face shields in K-12 schools late Friday afternoon. In response to this order, the district has taken a somewhat wait-and-see approach, deciding to continue forward with their original plan.
Under the governor’s revised mask mandate, all students, teachers and staff must not wear a face shield alone – face shields can only be worn with an accompanying mask through the end of 2020.
Steven Dunham, communications director for the district, told St. George News that they sent out a response regarding the new mask mandate to parents to clarify the district’s position relative to the governor’s mandate. He said they are working with and will continue to work with the local health department and state-level officials as they move forward.
The district’s statement to parents says:
At this point, we will continue on as we started, with masks being strongly recommended as they are more effective at mitigating exposure and risk, but shields being permitted by both students and staff with increased emphasis placed on physical distancing. As we move forward, we will continue working with local health authorities and will be monitoring the situation closely.
According to this statement, the district will continue to allow face shields to be worn without masks outside of the governor’s one exemption.
The only exemption in the governor’s order for wearing a face shield without a mask is in the instance when a student or staff member is “engaged in an activity where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication, including an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing while communicating with others, an individual who is communicating with an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing or a teachers-student dyad participating in speech therapy.”
Dunham said while their initial response is likely not their final stance, “it allows us some time to course-correct and make necessary adjustments, without causing mass confusion, which is where we were headed.”
He said they are optimistic this approach will allow the district to continue observing what happens upstate on Monday and over the next few days and then make needed adjustments.
“This is likely not our final position,” Dunham said.
Kristan Norton, a fifth grade teacher at Little Valley Elementary, told St. George News that she was so grateful with the district’s decision to continue allowing flexibility, especially after having a great two days back at school.
“It went so well. I was pleasantly surprised. It’s different. It’s very different. We spend a lot of time washing hands and sanitizing but the kids were so happy to be back, and I was so happy to see them,” she said. “It just flowed. The kids wore their masks. We wore our masks. They were able to still have a good time a recess and lunch was nice and spread out.”
After the first two days, Norton heard the governor’s mandate and she said she was disappointed. As a teacher, she said it was really beneficial to be able to switch back and forth, from wearing a mask to wearing a face shield depending on the need and risk factors.
While Norton predominately wears a mask while teaching, she said there are times when a shield is necessary.
“First of all, it’s so important for the students to see a face and to recognize that I am a person and they know who I am,” she said, “especially at the beginning of a school year.”
In addition to this, Norton said with teaching language arts, it’s so essential for students to see how the mouth forms different sounds. Lip reading also plays an important role in being able to hear and comprehend.
Another major point for Norton is that wearing a mask can quickly strain the voice because it requires speaking much louder so students can hear. Whereas a shield actually amplifies the voice.
“I found during the day, I needed that. I needed to be able to use a classroom voice, but with my mask on, my voice was cracking and it was getting difficult,” she said, adding that she also found she wasn’t drinking enough water with her mask on, and she needed that for her voice.
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