RIVER FALLS — School Board is considering permanent updates to student and employee dress codes requiring the use of face masks if deemed necessary for health and safety.

Though a Wisconsin mask mandate has been in effect since Aug. 1 in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, legal counsel from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards advised adding a mask policy to dress codes, according to a staff report. The revisions would allow the district to continue requiring masks after the statewide mandate expires.

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The board approved a first reading for the revised student dress code and and changes to the employee handbook at a special meeting Sept. 14. The updated dress code will be up for a vote at a future meeting.

School Board members spoke favorably of the proposed changes Monday night, including praise for detailed definitions and expectations for mask use.

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The language used in the employee and student dress codes are nearly identical. Both policies call for mandatory mask use at the direction of the superintendent in consultation with school board. It also states the superintendent will follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Wisconsin Department of Health and Pierce County Public Health.

According to the policies:

An acceptable face covering must cover the nose and mouth completely. They can include masks that are cloth, disposable or paper as well as neck gaiters and religious face coverings. A face shield alone or masks with holes, vents or mesh do not qualify.

When required, masks must be worn at all times with exceptions for eating and drinking, communicating with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, when at work when a face covering could pose a safety risk or if someone is having trouble breathing.

Face coverings are “strongly recommended” at all times — including when outdoors — if six feet of distancing can’t be maintained.

Alternatives will be determined if someone can’t wear a mask for medical reasons and provides a physician’s note.

Masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others and are a “critical tool” in the fight against the new coronavirus, according to the CDC.

As of Sept. 14, there were 27 River Falls School District students out with COVID-19 symptoms; 22 out due to a household member showing symptoms or pending test results; and 11 out because of close contact, according to a district status report. There were three staff members out pending test results for themselves or a household member.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the parts of the face that a mask must cover under the district's proposed dress code.