Masking is again mandatory in Springfield Public Schools — but only for the employees and any visitors.
Masking for students will remain optional, but strongly recommended, and the district will provide masks for anyone who needs them. The state's largest district announced the change Friday evening, hours after confirming to the News-Leader that 20 percent of employees — or about 700 of the 3,500 on staff — were absent from work assignments that day.
The district noted 19.4 percent, or more than 4,800, of the 24,100 students were not in class Friday.
Stephen Hall, chief communications officer, said the overwhelming majority missing from school buildings were reportedly ill. Greene County is in the midst of a spike in flu and COVID-19 cases, fueled by the omicron variant.
This week, the district reportedly warned that if it is unable to maintain appropriate levels of staffing, it will make the temporary move to virtual learning for a specific classroom, grade level or building.
Springfield is not alone. Staff shortages have been reported across Missouri districts.
Hall said the district logged more than 500 new cases of COVID-19 through Wednesday. Early next week, the district will post the weekly case count through Friday.
In the email to parents, the district said it documented more COVID-19 cases in a single day this past week than in any prior seven-day period.
Following a three-day weekend, including the observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the district plans to resume classes Tuesday.
The district amended its COVID-19 protocols in an effort to continue offering in person learning.
The biggest change is a return to mandatory masking inside district facilities, through at least Feb. 4, for all employees and visitors.
The letter to families stated: "Missouri Attorney General’s cease-and-desist directives on December 8 apply to students and not to employees."
Next week, the district will expand testing locations. Hall told the News-Leader this week that testing appointments were first-come, first-serve and filled up quickly.
The district said symptomatic students and staff may receive free testing at a centralized location and appointments may be made through your school’s nurse.
A federal mandate requires masking on all public transportation, including school buses.
In the email, the district said the following protocols will also continue:
Parents should continue to monitor children for symptoms of illness daily;
Students and staff exhibiting symptoms of any illness must stay home until symptoms resolve or they are cleared by a medical provider to return;
COVID-positive students will continue to be excluded from school and school activities for 10 days;
Students who are identified as direct contacts of a COVID-positive individual will be notified but will not be excluded from school or work unless they are symptomatic;
SPS will continue to report weekly COVID-19 cases at sps.org/covidstats.
Claudette Riley is the education reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Masks mandatory for Springfield school staff, visitors as COVID spikes