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UPDATED: Sioux City school board mulls mask mandate after judge puts state law on hold

SIOUX CITY – With a federal judge temporarily blocking a new state law that prohibited mask mandates in school districts, the Sioux City Community School Board will consider implementing such a requirement at a special meeting Wednesday.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Dellaveve Hoxie, a first-grader, adjusts her mask as she enters the school with her mother, Brianna Hoxie, during back to school night activities on Aug. 19 at Sioux City's Loess Hills Elementary School. The Sioux City school board will meet Wednesday to consider a mask mandate for all students, teachers, staff and visitors.

Board vice chair Monique Scarlett wants the district to require all students, staff and visitors to wear facial coverings while in district buildings, arguing masks have been scientifically proven to be the second best way to reduce the spread of the virus.

“If we saw an obvious threat involving the safety of our students and staff, we would be remiss if we didn’t correct that threat,” Scarlett said at Monday's school board meeting. “The COVID-19 virus with all of its variants is a safety hazard the world hasn’t seen since 1918.”

Scarlett wanted the vote to be an emergency item on Monday’s meeting, but based on legal guidance, they postponed the vote to a special meeting at 3 p.m. on Wednesday.

Scarlett

“Those who know me, know I am about peace, I do not relish in any kind of fight, but some fights are worth engaging in, especially when the health of our children are at stake,” Scarlett said.

Federal judge Robert Pratt on Monday entered a restraining order against enforcing the law banning school mask mandates while a lawsuit proceeds. Several parents and The Arc of Iowa, a group that defends the civil rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities sued the state, arguing the ban substantially increases the risk of children with health conditions of contracting COVID-19.

Both Scarlett and fellow school board member Taylor Goodvin said they planned to ask for a mask mandate at the meeting even before the federal judge decision was released. 

Cassie Thompson of Siouxland Public Safety Alliance asked if the school will return to requiring masks on school campuses. She said the organization relies on the school to protect the health and safety of students and staff.

In Woodbury County, Thompson said vaccination rates are lower than the state average and test positivity rates are high. As of Sept. 5, 43.4 percent of Woodbury County is vaccinated, and the latest weekly positivity rate was 13.2 percent.

“Masking along with other mitigation strategies is more important than ever,” she said.

School board President Perla Alarcon-Flory said the state law took local control away from school districts. She read a draft letter written by various school board members in the area asking Gov. Kim Reynolds to rescind the law.

Alarcon-Flory

“Our teachers tell us that the best way to teach kids are in the classroom and that the best way to keep kids in the classroom is to protect their health,” Alarcon-Flory said. “We need every tool at our disposal to accomplish that, including the ability to enforce mask mandates.”

The Sioux City Education Association is not taking a group stance on masks, said SCEA President Lisa Banks. 


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School nurse warns of problems administering COVID tests in Sioux City schools

SIOUX CITY – The Sioux City school district plans to purchase 16,000 rapid COVID-19 tests for students who experience symptoms during the school day. 

But a school nurse is sounding the alarm over the logistics of administering the tests in school buildings.

Nurse Julie Johnson, who oversees 2,200 students at Bryant Elementary and North High School, told the school board Monday there are many hurdles to overcome for nurses to start giving the tests.

Currently, Johnson said there are no written protocols or procedures for the in-school testing. In a clinical setting, Johnson said there are protocols for any procedure.

Asked by board vice chair Monique Scarlett if nurses are prepared to administer the rapid tests, Johnson said no.

Under the district's plans, students exhibiting symptoms of the virus would be sent to a designated “caring room” to visit the school nurse. The nurse or a certified assistant would then call the student’s parents or guardians, who would have to provide both verbal and written permission for the test to be performed at school.

If granted, the nurse would then administer the rapid test, which delivers a positive or negative reading in a few minutes, compared to several days for a more accurate PCR test.

Despite conversations regarding the testing that began publicly in August, Johnson said nurses have not been approached regarding procedures or plans.

The district also does not have enough registered nurses to administer the tests, Johnson said. 

RNs, she said, are not licensed to diagnose or order a diagnostic test. Orders for tests must be done by practitioners, she said.

The school district recently received a clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) waiver from the Iowa Department of Public Health to perform the tests in its 20 school buildings.

With the CLIA waiver, school nurses may perform antigen testing if they are trained in specimen collection and conducting the test per manufacturer’s instructions, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Johnson said the school has approval to function as a CLIA lab, but has no knowledge on how it would be implemented.

The RNs will be easily trained to administer the tests, Johnson said, but the nurses would have to delegate the procedures to the Certified Nursing Assistants and there are specific steps for delegation of tasks.

Johnson said many of the nurse’s offices do not have the space available to perform the tests.

“Currently, there’ll be several offices that don’t even have the space, don’t have the counter space, don’t have the privacy, don’t have any of the setup that you would need for lab testing,” she said.

The schools have never performed diagnostic testing, including pregnancy tests and drug tests.

Johnson recommended the district partner with community organizations instead.

The school board acknowledged the ESSER III plan Monday night which allows the district administration to move forward with the plans. Items for approval are expected to be brought before the board beginning at the next regular meeting.


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Proposed maps would alter Northeast Nebraska legislative districts

LINCOLN -- State legislative districts in Northeast Nebraska would be slightly modified under a pair of competing redistricting proposals.

The state Legislature launched a special session Monday to redraw boundaries for the state's 3 congressional and 49 legislative districts to reflect population changes between the 2010 and 2020 censuses.

Members of the Legislature's redistricting committee decided Thursday to present Republican and Democratic maps at three public hearings that began Tuesday.

Both plans would alter the borders of legislative District 17, which currently includes Dakota, Thurston and Wayne counties, and District 40, which now  covers Dixon, Cedar, Knox, Holt, Boyd and Rock counties.

District 17 is represented by Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston, while District 40 is represented by Sen. Tim Gragert of Creighton. With both maps, Albrecht's and Gragert's homes would remain in their respective districts.

Under the GOP plan, portions of southern and eastern Dixon County, including the city of Wakefield, would shift from District 40 to District 17, while the southeast corner of Thurston, including the Omaha Tribe's reservation, would move from District 17 to District 16, which is represented by Sen. Ben Hansen. 

The Democratic map, meanwhile, would shift the southwest corner of Thurston County, including the city of Pender, to District 16, and move a portion of southern Dixon County into District 17.

Under the Democratic plan, Pierce County, which is now part of District 41, would be transferred to District 40, while Rock County would shift into the sprawling District 43.

The Republican version would expand District 40 by adding the northeast corner of Pierce County, and all of Brown and Keya Paha counties. 

Five Republicans and four Democrats from the officially nonpartisan Legislature sit on the the legislative redistricting. The GOP plan were presented by committee chair Sen. Lu Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, and the Democratic maps were presented by the vice chair, Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha.

The committee introduced eight bills -- LB 1 and LB 3, the Republican versions of proposed new congressional and legislative districts. LB 2 and LB 4 represent the Democratic versions of those districts. The other bills cover the remaining political entities, which include the Public Service Commission, the Supreme Court, the University of Nebraska Board of Regents and the State Board of Education.

Four additional bills were introduced as "shell bills," which could be used to offer alternative redistricting plans. 

The first of three required hearings on the proposed maps were held in Grand Island on Tuesday, with additional meetings to follow in Lincoln on Wednesday and Omaha on Thursday. 


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