Mask Mandate
Mask Mandate

The issue of mask in USD259 isn’t settled totally, it will come back up again soon.

Wichita schools will continue to require masks inside district buildings at least through the winter, following a narrow vote by school board members Monday.

Board member Diane Albert led an effort to overturn the mandate, saying masks have not been proven effective at curbing spread of the COVID-19 virus.

“We tend to listen to one side of the doctors and silence the other side of doctors,” Albert said. “There are many doctors that I listen to that are taken off the internet very quickly.”

The board voted 4-3 to reject Albert’s proposal. Newly elected board members Kathy Bond and Hazel Stabler also voted to end the mandate.

The three new board members, who were elected in November, began their terms last month by refusing to wear masks at their first board meeting. They wore masks at a subsequent meeting, but requested a review of the district’s COVID-19 protocols.

Monday’s vote came after more than two hours of testimony and debate. A majority of speakers urged board members to keep the mask mandate in place.

“The damage that you worry about isn’t caused by these face masks,” said Andrew Le, a junior at Wichita Southeast High.

The real problem, he said, is that student mental health and other issues have been neglected since before the pandemic. “So yes, we are suffocating, but not because of masks,” Lee said.

Bond supported overturning the mandate, saying she thinks wearing a mask should be a personal decision.

“I really believe that parents need to have the choice,” she said. “I feel like parents have been neglected throughout this entire process.”

Board members Stan Reeser and Sheril Logan said they supported keeping the mandate at least through the winter months and possibly reviewing it again later.

“I am not wearing this mask as a political statement,” Reeser said. “I am wearing this mask (for) the same reason I wore my seat belt on the drive over here. I wanted to give myself the best opportunity that was out there that could get me here safely.”

Reeser said masks aren’t guaranteed to stop the spread of COVID, but they are one strategy to keep infections down.

“If you want to see lower test scores … take the masks off, let the (COVID) numbers go up, close down schools, send kids back into isolation, and you will truly see a drop in test scores,” Reeser said.

Near the close of Monday’s meeting, Bond asked that board members get an update on COVID infection rates and vote on the mask mandate again at their next meeting March 7.

In other business Monday, board members approved the 2022-23 school calendar. The first day of school for most students will be Aug. 15; the last day of school is May 24, 2023. Spring break next year will be March 13-17.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

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