The Waterloo School Board meeting on Aug. 18 was nothing short of passionate. With around 90 people tuning in online, 40 people listening in person, and a police officer standing quietly in the background, the room was abuzz with anticipation.
Public input, while limited to 5 minutes per person, went on for around 1 hour and 15 minutes. The board listened as parents went back and forth on the debate of whether or not masks should be optional.
One mother of a boy with asthma compared wearing a mask to wearing seat belts and stopping at stop signs. It’s for “everyone’s health,” she said.
A strongly opinionated man stood up to tell the board to ignore the disgraceful and embarrassing actions of the parents who are opposed to masks.
“(These parents) have provided their own uneducated and sometimes conspiratorial opinions,” he said. “Quit listening to ignorant people.”
One father held up a package with the masks his children wears to school. He read out the description on the back: “The mask is not intended for medical use and not proven to reduce the transmission of disease. I want to know how this is going to help,” he said.
A mother in favor of masks commented on the stress factor. She asked the board to imagine the stress their parents and grandparents were under as they experienced active shooter drills and bombings during the wars. Wearing a mask, she pointed out, is not as stressful as other things that schools have faced.
Overall, the resounding message from the majority of parents who spoke was to make masks optional; the adults argued for their say in what their kids do and don’t do.
“The only way that can happen is to let adults be adults and take care of their own kids,” one father said.
Ultimately, the COVID-19 Procedures Plan for the 2021-2022 school year, which includes making face coverings optional in the Waterloo School District, was passed 4-3 with Deb Stein, Karen Stangler, Charles Crave and Matt Schneider voting in favor of the plan.
The board spent its time at the end of the meeting ironing out the details of the plan, from visitors and volunteers to testing on site to pep rallies, which were all approved.
In light of the motion to make masks optional, the board discussed adding a virtual option for students. Waterloo School District’s only virtual plan was JEDI in the upcoming school year. But the board quickly realized that they didn’t have the information needed to make a decision. Questions continued to pop up: Which students would want to go to school in person or virtually for the entire school year? How old were they? What happens if students want to come back to in person after going virtual?
Schneider suggested sending out a survey to the parents to get a better grasp on what the population wants. With teachers arriving to school within the week and students soon after that, the board decided to vote on the plan and send out the survey the next day. They scheduled a meeting for Monday, Aug. 23 to discuss the data if they needed. (See related story on page A2.)
President Nancy Thompson made sure to explain that they would continue to look at data and make changes as needed.
“Keep in mind, I would think, that this is going to be a fluid document,” Thompson said. “Changes are going to happen through the year either as things get better or worse. This is what we’re looking at to start out with.”