The Decorah Middle School Auditorium was buzzing with anticipation Monday night as the DCSD School Board held a meeting to discuss masking during school hours. The meeting was held in response to a federal judge recently approving a temporary restraining order on the enforcement of the Iowa State Law banning mask mandates in schools.  
As the school board members emerged and began discussion of the issue, several questions were asked to clarify the situation; a situation reiterated by the board members several times that they “did not want to be in.”
Ultimately, following a lengthy discussion and review of several perspectives, the board moved to institute a mask mandate for pre-k through sixth grade until four weeks past the date a vaccine for ages 5-11 is approved for use and available in the community, effective Monday, Sept. 27. The motion found a second, and passed 4 to 1, with Director Krista Vanden Brink being the lone dissent. Vanden Brink’s earlier failed motion had proposed universal masking for pre-k through 12th grades. 


The points raised by the board members showed the labored conundrum they faced and included future vaccination approval by the FDA for ages 5-11. The vaccination currently has promise according to recent studies but is not fully authorized for use by the FDA at this time.
Also mentioned as a deciding factor in the mask decision, the current lawsuit naming the Decorah School District. The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU, Disability Rights Iowa and the Arc of Iowa on behalf of 11 parents of students with disabilities who say allowing districts to require masks would allow their children to go to school in-person safely. They argue that prohibiting schools from requiring masks violates their children’s’ rights to an equal education. With 1,650 students enrolled in the Decorah School District, it was estimated five percent of current students would fit into the specifications mentioned in the lawsuit. 
Board Vice President John Hjelle remarked, “As a board member, it is my job to mitigate risk and liability for the school district. However, we want to do this in the least restrictive way possible.” 
The efficacy of cloth masks was discussed, as well as needing to ensure proper fit and consistent use of masks on students. The board briefly discussed the possibility of utilizing see-through masks for students that are hard of hearing or need additional visual cues for speech development as an accommodation, however this topic was not on the agenda and was tabled until the next meeting.
“Vaccination is the gold standard of protection,” noted 
Director Brian Petersburg. Shifting into discussion on virus transmission in the community, Director Vanden Brink, Winneshiek County Public Health Director, noted high transmission rates across all age groups at this time. According to the Coronavirus.iowa.gov website, the Winneshiek County currently sits at 5.6% positivity as of Sept. 21.
Concerns were voiced by board members over the divisiveness of the issue, reporting hundreds of emails received in the past week from parents and community members. Director Vanden Brink noted concern for the divisiveness of the issue among the community. 
Superintendent Mark Lane then thanked the volunteer board members for their thoughtful consideration of the issue and noted his recommendation would be to follow CDC and American Association of Pediatrics recommendations of universal masking in schools for student safety.