NIXA, Mo. – With a week before school starts, some parents are still weighing their options for their kids this year. Crystal Wake wanted to take her daughter back to High Pointe Elementary until she learned the district won’t require masking.

Ozarks First spoke with Crystal and her daughter Kyree four months ago about the past school year and standardized testing. Kyree and her seven-year-old sister Adelay took virtual school last year. It will likely happen again.

“It was all really based on what Nixa was planning on doing with their masking mandate,” Crystal Wake said. “We’ve been waiting to hear what the school is gonna do with that.”

At the end of July 2021, Nixa Public Schools told parents it would require masking in a building if 7% or more of students and staff miss school due to COVID. Chief Communication Officer for the district, Zac Rantz, says this requirement could either last a minimum of two weeks, or until absences drop to fewer than 4% in that building for two consecutive weeks. At the moment, masks are required on the bus and visitors have to wear one on school grounds.  

“The ultimate thing with everything that we’re doing is to make sure that our students are in seated school five days a week,” Rantz said. “We know that’s where they learn the best. We know socially, emotionally, that’s where the best place for them is. Whatever we do, we are going to make sure we learn and adjust as needed as time goes along. We wanted to have a flexible system to where it wasn’t masked all the time, but if we see a hot spot around the district, we can address it and take care of it.”

Crystal considered homeschooling, and then Connections Academy. She eventually learned Nixa doesn’t partner with the online school, it partners with Launch. So, she applied.

“I didn’t expect we’d be doing that, but it’s just all an effort to keep my kids safe,” Crystal said. “We are this close to having them vaccinated, and if we can just make it the rest of the way I’ll feel so much better about everything.”

While she waits to hear back, Adelay is getting ready for second grade.

“I hope that we can go to normal school soon,” Adelay said. “But, I also hope that we can see our friends sooner and we can see our teachers.”

Although, Crystal warns her kids that change could take a while.

“Maybe that’s wrong of me to not be so optimistic, but I was trying to be realistic,” Crystal said. “Given what we had known at the beginning of the pandemic, I thought it was better to prepare them for a bad, realistic scenario. So far, it has served me well, and it has served the kids well. They haven’t been let down or disappointed that ‘Oh, I thought we were going to go back to normal. Oh, I thought we were going to go back to seated classes after first semester.’ It was always ‘we’re taking this one day at a time.”

Throughout the pandemic, Crystal has kept her family entertained with activities like gardening.

“To make us want to stay home,” Crystal said. “So we weren’t just bored and engaging in risky behaviors indoors just because we’re bored at home. Everyone has a tablet, everyone has their own space, their own books. We try to keep up with the kids’ interests to keep them engaged. We’re not sitting here twiddling our thumbs.”

Crystal plans to do this for at least the first semester of the new curriculum.

“I definitely feel like we can do it,” Crystal said. “We can handle it, and everyone is going to be fine with it.”

Rantz encourages parents in a similar situation to reach out to their school principal or virtual counselor.

“We want them to ask a lot of questions,” Rantz said. “It doesn’t boil down to just masking or not masking. We have UV lights, sanitizer, social distancing. There’s a lot of things that we’re looking at. We want to make sure that they feel informed and they can make the best decision possible.”

Rantz says Nixa will handle its guidelines on a week-by-week basis, and constantly communicate with parents.