Late last week The Iowa Standard reported that an Ankeny middle school requires masks to be worn by students returning from COVID. On Monday, we contacted Southview Middle School and were transferred to the school nurse.
We asked about the school’s requirements for students returning from COVID and were told there are two options for families. Current practice, according to a person called Rachel Borich, who serves as the school nurse, is that “Day 0” is the day symptoms begin. Families are then to count five days and on “Day 6” a student can return if they wear a mask through “Day 10.”
Or, she said, if a student gets two negative tests 48 hours apart they can return after “Day 5” and not have to wear a mask.
“Or you can wait out 10 days and then come back,” she said. “I know it’s different than what CDC says and all that, but it’s because ours is directed by return-to-school related, like, practices, so it’s a little bit different.”
We asked Borich about state law that prohibits districts from forcing students to wear masks and she acknowledged the district cannot require kids to wear masks, but if kids are coming back early from COVID, the current practice is guidance from the Iowa Department of Public Health.
“It’s the same thing, like, if somebody has strep,” Borich said.
Students are not allowed back after strep until they’ve been on antibiotics for a period of time, she said.
“We can’t require them to wear masks, but if they want to come back before the period of illness is through, that’s where it’s coming from,” she said. “We can’t force kids to wear masks, like all day long, no, we can’t do that. But if you have the illness there is guidance that we have to do to prevent the spread.”
The policy states the school may adjust certain activities for students returning, including lunch. We asked what those adjustments might entail.
Borich said if a student is back before their 10 days but after their five days, they might have to eat at a separate table for lunch because they’re unable to wear their mask while eating. Southview has smaller tables in the lunch room and students can eat there. Once they are done eating, they can sit with other humans again if they wear a mask — or have tested negative twice, 48 hours apart.
For band, students may practice in a smaller room rather than the bigger room because they’re blowing in an instrument and “there’s still that chance you could, still, you know, technically be contagious.”
She said she doesn’t think PE has done much to change, but with wrestling being in season, that would present a challenge.
“It’s like anything, like I think, you know, it’s kind of using common sense a little bit,” she said. “I get it. Everyone is kind of all over the board on the COVID thing. We have to follow like what Iowa Department of Public Health has us doing for school return.”
The policy covers the entire Ankeny District, she said, not just Southview Middle School.
Borich offered to send a copy of the return-to-school forms a handful of times throughout the conversation, but said she was going to hold off since we weren’t the parent of a student in the district. The Iowa Standard immediately filed an Open Records request with the school district seeking the documents.
Southview Middle School principal, a man called Kevin Biggs, previously wrote that the guidance was received by the district from the Polk County Health Department. Last week we contacted the Polk County Health Department and they weren’t aware of such guidance.
We contacted the Iowa Department of Public Health on Monday and they are working on a response.