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St. Louis County Schools Will Require Masks Indoors

Children arrive at Hancock Place Elementary School in Lemay. The south St. Louis County district was one of the first in the region to bring students back to classrooms last fall.
File / Ryan Delaney
St. Louis Public Radio
Children arrive at Hancock Place Elementary School in Lemay. The south St. Louis County district will be requiring masks again in the fall.

Updated August 16 with the Ferguson-Florissant School District announcing a mask mandate

Most St. Louis County school districts will require students and staff to wear masks indoors this upcoming school year.

There isno mask mandate in St. Louis County, but all county school districts have decided to keep masks in the classroom.

School officials say they are doing so because they want to protect students at a time when the number of coronavirus cases is rising, fueled by the fast-spreading delta variant.

“This summer when we were in the middle of June, case counts were lower, things kind of looked like we had turned the corner for the best, but obviously as the weeks have gone by it has made the decision easier for us,” Pattonville Superintendent Tim Pecoraro said.

The Centers for Disease and Control Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that children 2 and older wear masks in schools, even those who have received the COVID-19 vaccine.

But, many county school districts have faced pressure from parents to implement a mask-optional policy in schools. That would allow parents to choose whether their child should wear a mask.

In the Mehlville and Parkway school districts, Facebook groups advocating against mask mandates have hundreds of members.

Still, school leaders have chosen to follow the advice of St. Louis County public health officials to require masks indoors.

“Some people will be angry about a mask requirement. I’m sure they will also be angry when their child has to face quarantine,” said Chris Gaines, superintendent of Mehlville school district at a board meeting last week. “Overall, masks mean more kids get to be in school on a daily basis.”

The Archdiocese of St. Louis announced mask wearing in its schools will be “at the discretion of each individual family” in July. But families will only be able to decide if they are not in a region where masks are mandated.

School districts in neighboring Jefferson and St. Charles counties have largely announced that masks will be optional. But public health officials are warning against this course of action.

“Our zero- to 12-year-olds are unable to be vaccinated right now,” said Brianne Zwiener, communications specialist for the Jefferson County Health Department. “So they are relying on the rest of the community to put in the prevention measures and do what we need to do to help keep them safe.”

Despite the recommendations, only one school district in Jefferson County, Dunklin R-5, has reversed its mask-optional policy so far.

Jefferson County public health officials have observed an increase in cases, especially in children younger than 19. The county saw 267 cases in that age group in July, up from 59 cases in June. In the past 10 days, the county has seen 129 more cases in children.

Zwiener predicts the numbers will continue to surge as schools open.

“We are concerned we’ll see an uptick in cases in our community, and particularly among our children,” she said.

Follow Kendall on Twitter: @kcrawfish33