Board of Education Disregards Superintendent’s Recommendation To Enforce Masks Amid Rising COVID-19 Cases In District

From Jan. 3-10, WSD has seen 530 reported positive COVID-19 cases


Mollie Banstetter

On Jan. 10, 2021, more than 150 new cases of COVID-19 were reported across the district.

When Jan. 10’s emergency Wentzville Board of Education meeting was called into order, community members anxiously watched their screens awaiting yet another COVID-19 discussion by the seven BOE members. 

The meeting held was not previously planned, but was a special board meeting called by administrators. The agenda published prior to the meeting showed only one item on the docket— a COVID-19 discussion, which meant that the whole night was specifically about an incredibly hot button issue. 

The Wentzville School District and the nation as a whole has been staring at positivity and exposure rates larger than anyone has ever seen, due to the new Omicron variant and relaxing of COVID-19 mitigation regulations. 

Watch Part 1 of the live stream here.

Watch Part 2 of the live stream here.

Superintendent’s Report

In a more local lens, as of Jan. 10 2021, WSD has one building at a 5.9% positivity rate (Prairie View Elementary), two at a 4+% rate, four at a 3+% rate, and six buildings at a 2+% positivity rate. One glance at the district website will show that there are only 22 school buildings in the Wentzville School District, meaning that around 59% of the district is at a positivity rate that would previously require a school building to enforce masking for a 30 day period or until their positivity rate dropped below 2%. The entire district is sitting at a 3% positivity rate, which is the highest for the district since the beginning of the virus in 2020.

“Once we hit a little bit over 1.5 (percent) is when we start getting concerned about a building,” said Dr. Jeri LaBrot, the Assistant Superintendent of WSD. “If we can keep a building below 2 (percent), that’s good news. Once a building goes above 2 (percent), typically it trends upward for quite some time without mitigation efforts.”

In response to these staggering numbers, Dr. Curtis Cain, the Wentzville School District Superintendent, gave a brief presentation followed by a statistics-based recommendation to: 

1) Postpone all Visitors and In-Person Meetings and then to reconsider this policy at the February BOE Meeting

2) Reinstall a masking policy in buildings with a 3% positivity rate or higher.

“We now have the numbers. We’re staring at our reality. And we have to make some steps to move forward,” Cain expressed during the presentation.

We are definitely on the upswing— no doubt about that.

— Dr. Curtis Cain, In regards to rising COVID-19 cases in WSD

Board of Education Discusses

After the presentation ended and the floor was open for the board to discuss, an unsatisfied grumble of voices started to gain traction among audience members, after Director Abbott expressed support for new strategies to pull our district through the current surge of cases in our community. At 6:49 pm (44 minutes into the open session), Director Abbot called for a 5 minute recess due to the interruptions from the audience.

During the recess, police officers already present at the meeting were instructed to remove all present audience members from the meeting. After a lengthy wait, the meeting was then changed to a live streamed closed session to provide all Board of Education members an uninhibited opportunity to speak. The meeting was called to order again at 7:33 p.m.

During this second half of the meeting, almost no progress was made by the members of the Board. Cain’s recommendation was met with intense scrutiny by the majority of the Directors on the Board of Education. As the meeting progressed, President Betsy Bates and Director Erin Abbott seemed to be the only two (out of seven) considering giving this new plan a chance.

The Board of Education moves their meeting to a closed session due to interruptions from audience. (via WSDvideo on YouTube)

Five Directors expressed their disdain for enforcing a mask policy (citing personal reasons and research); President Bates seemed open to considering a temporary mask mandate; Director Abbot seemed to be in complete support of Cain’s recommendations.

The meeting was eventually adjourned at 8:29 p.m, with no motion passed and no changes to COVID-19 mitigation strategies were made.

Statistics Provided By Dr. Cain & Dr. LaBrot

*The presentation of statistics used by the central office cabinet during the meeting has not been released for public viewing at the time of this article’s publication. All statistics mentioned below are based on direct quotes from Dr. Cain & Dr. LaBrot.

ATTENDANCE: Attendance across the district on Jan. 10, 2021, was 87%. According to previous years’ statistics (pre-Covid-19), attendance is at an average above 90% when school resumes in January after winter break.

DUELLO & MASKING: On Sept. 10, 2021, at an Emergency Board Meeting, Director Goodson made a motion for masks to be made mandatory for 30 days at Duello Elementary, due to concerns about increasing rates of COVID-19 positivity. The motion was passed 5-2. When the mandate was first introduced, the school had 43 reported positive cases. Within a week of the mandate being in effect, there were 11 reported positive cases. At the end of the 30 days, there were 4 reported positive cases.

ABSENCES IN EMPLOYEES: Fill rates for employees (including substitutes) should be above 70%, well into the 70s-80s. As of Jan. 10, 2022, the fill rate in WSD is 43.2% Currently teachers are having to combine classrooms, collapse sections, look at seminar models, and teach during their plan period.

JANUARY 2021 VS. JANUARY 2022: (All data has been collected via the same procedure during the 20-21 and 21-22 school year.) The total student positives, after the first 6 days of January 2022, is 4.1x the total of positivity of the first six school days of January 2021. On Jan. 10, 2021, more than 150 new cases were reported across the district. The following numbers do not include those who were only quarantined due to exposure, those who were sick with other illnesses, and those who had COVID-19 but did not report.

  • From August 2020 to June 2021 (entire school year), the district had a total of 1,153 positive COVID-19 cases. 
  • From August 24, 2021 to December 21, 2021 (current school year before winter break), the district has had a total of 1,113 positive COVID-19 cases. 
  • From Jan. 3, 2022 through Jan. 10, 2022 (6 days that school has been in session), the district has seen 530 reported positive COVID-19 cases. This number is 46% of all of the 2020-2021 school year, and 52.3% of all of the cases reported before winter break of the 2021-2022 school year.