CLINTON — Children in the Clinton Community School District will not have to wear masks to class, the school board decided Monday in a 4-3 decision.

Board members Jenny Green, Mike House and Eric Gettes voted for the mask requirement; board members Mike Pelham, Ann Reed, Missey Sullivan Pope and Scott Bengtson voted against it.

Residents who asked to speak to board before the vote were given two minutes each. The board restricted public comments to a total of 30 minutes. Board President House asked residents to be respectful and in control, and they were during the public comments section.

Kari White asked the board to require masks in school because children under the age of 12 cannot be vaccinated. “I think we need to do what they can,” said White.

Children are impressionable, White said. They might not wear the masks their parents put on them if they see other children without them.

“Masking is absolutely necessary,” said Dana Albaghdadi. This past week, Iowa recorded the highest number of COVID cases since the beginning of the year, she said. More than 3000 were children under the age of 12.

“They deserve protection,” said Albaghdadi. “This isn’t about freedom. It’s about health. We don’t have the right to make others sick and die.”

“I am for the mask mandate,” said Laura McDougall, a mother and healthcare worker. “As a parent, I want what’s best for my child.” Parents have to make tough choices, even if children don’t like what they have to do, she said.

Children will continue to be bullied for wearing masks if all children aren’t required to wear them, McDougall said.

“I’m opposing the mask mandate,” said Curtis Miller. Children operate using facial clues, which they don’t see when everyone wears masks, he said.

Judging that most of the school board was not masked during Monday’s meeting, the board should vote no, Miller said.

Erin George read an email that she had sent to board members and posted to her Facebook page. “I’ve taken a few days to think through my response to hearing that Clinton Schools are looking into new masking rules. I wanted to make sure my message wasn’t written in haste or anger. With that said, it is my hope that you all will vote no on masking our kids.

“We are rounding the curve on two years of living with COVID,” said George. “The amount of experiences, opportunities and things taken from our children during these two years is appalling.”

Students were robbed of their activities and of time with their peers and teachers, George said. Children were isolated at home, many to be left unattended for the day.

“Suicide is the second leading cause of death in children. How many kids in our community have experienced depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts due to the mental impact COVID?” George asked.

“The morning I told my kids they no longer had to wear a mask to school, we all cried tears of joy. Jack’s teacher told me she felt like she had a whole new classroom of kids, and how remarkable it was to actually be able to see their smiling faces,” George said.

“I’m not against anyone who chooses to wear a mask, but I firmly believe it is a family choice on what is best for their own family. All families should have the choice,” said George.

“As a society, we must balance rights every day,” said Randy Current, father of a high school student. This nation has seatbelt laws. Schools forbid the carrying of guns on school grounds. Schools have required vaccinations for decades, he said.

“Please do the medically indicated thing,” said Current. This is not a political issue. COVID does not discriminate between Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, he said.

Eric Brown, an eighth-grade math teacher with three students in Clinton schools and a wife working as a para-educator, asked the board to engage in critical thinking and cut through the politics and emotions.

Students can be divided into two groups, said Brown: Those who are desperate for normalcy and those who are becoming more disengaged. He asked that the board consider the emotional well being of the children.

As the board discussed the motion, residents began shouting from the audience and talking over one another. House allowed residents to ask questions and add comments as they raised their hands.

Board Member Gettes said he knows eight health care professionals, and he asked their opinions. Seven of the eight said they would recommend masks, Gettes said.

“In Illinois, I wear a mask every day to work,” said Gettes. So do the students he sees. Gettes often has trouble hearing the students, he said, especially those who have speech problems.

“But kids are getting by,” Gettes said. “Kids are resilient.”

Gettes said he doesn’t see any emotional damage in students who are required to wear masks, but online learning does cause emotional problems, he said.

Losing a classmate causes emotional damage, said Gettes. He’s seen it first hand. Gettes said he couldn’t live with himself if a student dies of COVID and Gettes didn’t do everything he could to prevent it.

People can find pros and cons on both sides, said Board Member Bengtson, but the board has to look out for the students.

“If masks worked so great, we wouldn’t be two years into this by now,” Bengtson said. The emotional and developmental consequences of the COVID regulations won’t be known for years, he said. The number of children who die of suicide is higher than the number who die of COVID, he said.

District officials had recommended that the board approve a mask requirement for all students and staff in each building during the instructional day.

The Iowa legislature passed a law banning mask mandates in public schools in May. Several parents filed lawsuits against the state, and in September, a U.S. District Court judge issued a temporary restraining order against the enforcement of the law. School districts across the state began mandating the wearing of masks in their schools.

In Clinton County, Central-DeWitt Community School and Camanche Community School District declined to mandate masks in their schools.

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Senior Staff Writer

A native of Centerville, Winona joined the Clinton Herald in November 2018 after writing for the Ottumwa Courier for two years.