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Mask policy to remain in place here throughout school year

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HARTINGTON — Strict masking and social distancing rules will remain in place at local schools for the remainder of the school year, school administrators announced last week.

Students at Cedar Catholic and Hartington-Newcastle schools are currently required to wear masks while in the school building. That rule will not change, even though coronavirus cases in Cedar County have been dropping steadily and other schools are loosening their restrictions.

Cedar Catholic Principal Chris Uttecht said the School Board voiced unanimous support for the current mask requirements

Uttecht said in order for students to be able to take part in concerts, track meets, golf meets and graduation, and other year-end activities, the mask policy must stay in place.

Current Directed Health Measures stipulate that anyone that has a close contact with a positive case has to quarantine for up to 10 days.

"What that means as a school, if we made masks optional, it would just take one student to test positive who is not wearing a mask, and suddenly we would have 40-50 kids that would have to be quarantined," Uttecht said.

Hartington-Newcastle Supt. A.J. Johnson told Hartington-Newcastle School Board members last week that school has been able to stay in session all year long because of these rules, and he wants to make sure the students will be able to complete the school year.

"We've only got 26 days left in the school year," Johnson said at last Monday's HNS Board meeting. "Hopefully, if we keep doing the right things, we can have a graduation ceremony that is much closer to normal this year."

Uttecht said he understands the masking decision is not popular with all students, parents or teachers, but feels it is the right decision.

"I know not everyone agrees with this. It is what I feel is best for our students to keep them successful," he said. "I know other schools are dropping their mask requirements, but until they change the Directed Health Measures, and until they change the quarantining rules, we are going to wear masks at Cedar Catholic to protect our students."

Uttecht said it is unfortunate that this decision has to stay, but it is what is best for the students.

"This has created a lot of tension, they have strained a lot of relationships, but hopefully, when this is done, we can repair those relationships."

He knows the students are tired of the masks, and he is also tired of them, but they must stay on in order to get through the school year, he said.

"I tell you, when we can take masks off at school, I will be the first one doing cartwheels down the hall," he said.

As the weather has gotten nicer and the virus numbers have begun to improve, some students have decided they no longer want to wear the masks, but they must stay, Uttecht said.

"Most of the year, we have just struggled with some students not having them on correctly or little issues like that, but what we've seen in the last week or two is students not wearing masks at all — just blatant defiance that they will no longer where a mask and that's where there will be consequences," he said. "We are not going to let one student possibly test positive and ruin the opportunities for other students."

He has heard arguments on both sides of the case about masks, but the bottom line is, in order to be able to complete all of the scheduled events and activities this school year, the strict policy simply must stay in place.

"I understand we are seeing the lowest (coronavirus) levels since school began. I've seen the research. I've read more about the coronavirus then I ever wanted to know. Really what it comes down to is the current Directed Health Measures," Uttecht said. "It really doesn't matter what chart or graph you look to, or what Risk Assessment you view — if we are in the green or yellow — it all comes down to the Directed Health Measures. That's what we have to follow as required by law."

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