Washington County School District clarifies stance on face shields

ST. GEORGE — Just three days into the fall semester, the Washington County School District Board of Education held an emergency meeting to discuss Gov. Gary Herbert’s revision of the mask mandate as it pertains to wearing face shields Monday night.

Washington County School District students pose for a first day of school photo in their masks, Santa Clara, Utah, Aug. 13, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Stark, St. George News

On Tuesday, they sent out a clarification statement to parents about whether students can still wear face shields with no masks.

On Tuesday morning, Steven Dunham, the district communications director, told St. George News they were in the middle of putting together another statement to send out to parents. He said after they sent out their first letter on Saturday in response to the governor’s order, which states that face shields cannot be worn alone without a mask (with the exception of some circumstances), some parents were confused and saw the district’s response as opposing the governor.

“A lot of the parents misunderstood that we were going to stand up to the governor,” he said. “The intent of our message was to just tell parents to keep doing what you’re doing. We’ve had a smooth opening.”

They wanted to slow down and have some time to further understand the governor’s new order before moving forward and making any abrupt changes, he said, adding that they want to be in compliance.

“For now, we’re just going to maintain the course,” he said. “We want to be in compliance. We’ve had a good opening, and we want to make sure that we can maintain that good opening and move forward in a positive direction.”

Later on Tuesday, the district sent out the following statement:

We intend to fully comply with the governor’s new mandate dated Aug. 14, 2020. There are provisions in the mandate that permit certain modifications to the general rule, which will be implemented and followed by WCSD to best meet the needs of our students and staff.

The statement further addresses parents saying if their child wears a face shield, they need to please contact the principal to ensure they are in compliance with the new mandate. All students and staff must be fully compliant with this revised mandate by Aug. 24.

Students at Diamond Valley Elementary space themselves out before school, Diamond Valley, Utah, Aug. 13, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Annette Graf, St. George News

What permits a child to wear a face shield without a mask while in class would be when “doing a lesson that requires them to have their face seen,” Dunham said.

“What that means for teachers is that if teachers feel that they need their face seen, they’re welcome to do that,” he said, adding that if they are just wearing the shield then they should try to maintain more physical distancing while they’re providing that lesson, and then later they can put on their mask.

Parents whose kids need to wear face shields without masks will be required to fill out a waiver.

“What we’ve seen in the schools already is that most of the children are already wearing masks, and there are a handful wearing shields, so we just need to make sure that the parents who want their child to wear the shield have a waiver signed,” he said.

“A shield is a replacement for a mask when a waiver is requested,” he said, adding that if a parent is requesting no mask or shield, it’s another level of requirements, such as having a doctor’s note.

Dunham said in most cases, a doctor’s note would not be required for a child to wear a shield in place of a mask but later said he wasn’t absolutely certain if a doctor’s note would be required.

If a student or staff member were to contract COVID-19, Dunham said he thinks they have done the best they can to eliminate the chance of a spread.

“We are providing as safe of an environment for students and staff as we possibly can considering the number of students and the space we have available in our buildings,” he said. “There’s no way we can guarantee that we can prevent the virus from entering the building.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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