Kansas school district upholds mask requirement

By GARY HENRY ghenry@prairiepress.net
Posted 8/23/21

KANSAS — About a half-dozen residents and parents attended the Kansas Board of Education meeting Wednesday, Aug. 18, to protest Gov. JB Pritzker’s mandate that students wear masks in …

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Kansas school district upholds mask requirement

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KANSAS — About a half-dozen residents and parents attended the Kansas Board of Education meeting Wednesday, Aug. 18, to protest Gov. JB Pritzker’s mandate that students wear masks in school.

The by now common assertions that masks are detrimental for children, the governor has exceeded his authority, the mandate is an usurpation of parental rights and local control and the school board as elected representatives of the community should accede to their demands to defy the order and risk the consequences.

Board members engaged in a thoughtful discussion about the best way to move forward and get students in school and keep them there. The district approved a back to school in July, before the governor issued his order, that recommended masks but did not require them. A new back to school plan that included the mask mandate was on the table for review at the meeting Wednesday evening.

“This one is not our plan,” said board president Matt Ehlers. “It wasn’t our goal. We were overridden.”

He acknowledged being conflicted, saying as a parent and citizen he does not like complying, but as a board member he must consider the bigger ramifications of possibly losing state funding, the lost opportunity of students to play sports and having the district’s accreditation revoked which would render the Kansas diplomas worthless to the 2022 graduating class.

“What turned my thinking is the legal opinion of what could happen,” Ehlers said, explaining under normal circumstances school board members and districts are immune from suits if a student gets ill. “If the governor issues a mandate, and we go against it, that (immunity) is out the window.”

Board member Gabe Boedecker also does not like the idea of his children, or any child, wearing a mask, but he said upon further reflection he realized that is a selfish attitude on his part that might pose a danger to students who need the protection of others wearing masks.

“I’m proud of what the school and administration did last year,” said Boedecker. “They made a bold and brave move to bring all of the kids back to school with masks when many schools did not return. That’s been forgotten by the community. This is not great, but it is better than not having kids in school.”

Continuing the big picture theme, board member Ron Lee said the board must seriously weigh the risk of losing state aid.

“If we lost just one state payment, we might have to shut the doors,” Lee said, noting how the speakers during the public audience portion of the meeting stressed how important the Kansas school district is to them and their children. “If we have to close, the kids will go to some other school.” 

The board approved the back to school plan with the inclusion of a mask mandate on split vote. Ehlers, Lee, Boedecker, Mark Eskew and Katy Knoll voted yes. Board member Britta Baker voted no.

The board also approved a Consent to Test policy to possibly limit quarantine for student exposed to COVID-19.

“It’s a way to keep kids in school,” said principal/superintendent Cindy Spencer.

The plan, which is supported by the Edgar County Public Health Department, allows authorized school personnel to administer rapid tests to students exposed to the virus. Tests are administered on the first, third, fifth and seventh day of what would otherwise be an at home quarantine period. While students test negative, they can remain in school and do not have to quarantine.

Spencer emphasized this is not mandatory testing, and parents must give consent. If parents reject the testing option, the child will do remote lessons while being in quarantine at home.

Board members approved offering the testing with consent plan.

Spencer said another option regarding COVID exposure exists for vaccinated students. She said if students voluntarily show their vaccination card, they can remain in school and avoid quarantine. School officials cannot compell a student to show the card, but it can be voluntarily provided.

Students claiming to be vaccinated but refusing to provide proof will be sent home to complete the mandatory quarantine.

Per the board discussion with Spencer, it was confirmed students who come to school without a mask will be offered one. Refusal to wear a mask will result in the student being sent home.

In other matters, Spencer briefed the board on significant improvements to the school’s welding program including a new $20,000 CNC table that is still under construction and is not yet in place. She said the table and other improvements resulted from grants and donations without any cost to the district.

Kansas Unit 3 will soon have 15 new iPads and 20 new Chromebooks. Spencer submitted a special E-rate grant for the devices.

“I just heard they were awarded,” she said.

Following an executive session the board accepted the resignation of board member Tommy Burnsides and hired Jenny Sutton as a one-on-one aide