ST. CHARLES, Mo. (KMOV.com) -- Troy resident Kelly Edinger is erring on the side of caution and pulled her two children from in-person learning ahead of the fall semester after she learned Lincoln County School District planned to make masks optional for the start to the school year.
“My girls wanted to be back so bad. They did. I feel so horrible. It was hard for me. It was sickening,” Edinger said. "I've been fighting all summer for masks and I just feel so defeated."
It's a shared fight among some parents in St. Charles County who are now hoping their school districts will require all people who enter campuses to mask up, as concerns over the spread of the Delta variant rise.
"Now that we have this new variant, we're seeing the rise in pediatric cases. We're watching the numbers go up at our children’s hospitals and our pediatric offices. And so now our kids aren't as safe,” Maria Walls said.
Walls is an Adult Nurse Practitioner and a Fort Zumwalt parent who's taken care of hundreds of COVID-19 patients. She is among a list of 26 clinicians and 80 parents who signed a letter directed at St. Charles County area districts to enforce masks this fall, just as the CDC now issues the same recommendation for K-12 schools across the country.
"My third grader will have a medical grade mask on just like he did last year,” Walls said. “Unfortunately because of the job that I have and the job that my husband has, we don’t have the option of staying home with our children for virtual learning.”
"If the school districts aren’t following those recommendations, whose recommendations are they exactly following?” said Jamie LoCastro, a parent with two children in the Fort Zumwalt School District.
For Zumwalt, Francis Howell, and Wentzville school districts previously announced plans to make masks optional for students and staff this fall. As CDC guidance came down on Tuesday, all districts and St. Charles City School District told News 4 they are currently reviewing new CDC guidance and working with local and state health officials.
"Our daughter actually has a lot of autoimmune conditions, so we're really concerned about her,” said one teacher with the Francis Howell School District.
That teacher, who chose to remain anonymous, hopes schools will make the choice to mask up and prevent COVID-19 from spreading in classrooms like hers.
"I rather be overprotective than throw caution to the wind,” she said.
While Edinger says she can luckily keep her two kids learning virtually this fall, she hopes she can help her neighboring St. Charles County families and teachers not have to make a tough decision between keeping their children home or risk going to school without a mask mandate in place.
"If you have strategies you know that can keep every single person safe, such as masking, spacing, proper hygiene, why would you not use those to your advantage?" she said.
St. Charles County officials tell News 4 they don't have plans to issue a mask mandate at this time. When asked what guidance they plan to give school districts, they say they are waiting for answers on guidance from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education:
State guidelines [make] it very clear that the decision regarding masks is up to the local boards of education. We have asked the state a number of questions about the guidance and are waiting for answers.
Here are the recent responses from the major St. Charles County Districts on their current policies this fall:
City of St. Charles School District:
"The City of St. Charles School District is currently in the process of working with local and state health officials, while also taking into account the guidance of the CDC and other federal health officials, to determine our COVID-19 protocols for the 2021-22 school year. The District has reassembled our task force from last year to help collaborate and create our 2021-22 Entry Plan that will be approved by the Board of Education. The COVID-19 pandemic is a fluid, ever-changing situation and our plan will account for such fluidity to give our schools, students and staff the proper protocols for that particular time."
Fort Zumwalt School District:
Currently, Fort Zumwalt is masks optional for students and staff when school resumes this fall. We'll have more information in the coming weeks, before school starts. Our administrators remain in constant contact with health officials and are monitoring changes to recommendations as well as current pandemic conditions in our county.
Francis Howell School District:
Francis Howell is planning to start the school year as mask optional but will continue to monitor the situation and make adjustments as necessary.
Wentzville School District:
As of right now, we will not have any immediate changes until we can review the guidance. We will have to evaluate once it is announced and shared in complete detail. Additionally, we also take into consideration guidance from our state and local health officials as well.