Prairie Hills School Board votes to make face masks optional in school buildings as state Board of Education updates school reopening guidelines

Published: Aug. 12, 2020 at 12:24 PM CDT
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SABETHA, Kan. (WIBW) - The Prairie Hills School Board (USD 113) voted to make wearing face masks optional for each student, teacher, staff member and visitor in all schools in the district at a board meeting on Monday.

The 5-2 vote from the USD 113 School Board comes as the Kansas State Board of Education updated their guidelines for how schools can reopen, including making face masks recommended for everyone over age two.

USD 113 Superintendent Todd Evans confirmed the decision to 13 NEWS.

USD 113 has five schools across three campuses: Axtell Public Schools, Wetmore Schools, Sabetha Elementary School, Sabetha Middle School and Sabetha High School.

As the Sabetha Herald reported, school district community members presented their concerns before the board at their meeting on Monday, with diverse opinions on whether masks should be worn in buildings.

Brook Brubeck, who formerly worked as the Food Services Director for the school district said she chose to resign following the board’s meeting on Monday, July 27th and said she felt the board was not taking the safety of its community seriously and said while live streaming the board’s meeting on Monday, August 10, she felt she made the right decision.

“I think that the idea of this personal freedom really started creeping in, honestly I think people just got tired, tired of being in quarantine, trying to stay home,” she said when speaking of the vote to make masks optional.

In a letter obtained by 13 NEWS that was originally sent to USD 113, 115, and 380 eight physicians and a registered nurse in Nemaha County recommended masks for schools in the county writing:

“We recognize the potential grievances and discomfort that these major social and personal changes will require of the public, including our children. We also recognize that mask wearing, particularly in young children could pose a potential for mild communication difficulties, social hinderances and mask compliance issues. However, we unanimously and emphatically agree that the value of universal mask wearing for disease control in congregate settings far outweighs any potential minor hardships. Furthermore, proper mask wearing does not pose any significant health risks to individuals, except in extreme and rare instances. Furthermore, it should be stated that proper masking is a cornerstone public health measure that has been proven time and again to significantly prevent and reduce the spread of communicable airborne illness, such as COVID-19.”

Brubeck said she is concerned about optional mask wearing in the district and said there’s enough information to show that masks are effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

“I don’t know why we think we’re different why we think we’re special and it’s putting people lives and livelihood in danger it’s just an irresponsible decision.”

According to Superintendent Evans, school is set to start August 25th with a parent choice for the student to attend school remotely or in-person.

Brubeck said those options leave parents and guardians in a tough position.

“I know that it is what it is right now and I know that there’s a lot of families who are uncomfortable with it, who are scared but feel like they don’t have any other option but to send their kids to school because they have to work.”

On Tuesday, the State Board of Education voted on updated guidelines to “Navigating Change”, the board’s plan for reopening Kansas schools.

The updates, which are not mandates, include recommendations for academics and operations school districts can choose to use.

One of those recommendations is for everyone over the age of two in school buildings to wear a mask.

Dr. Deena Horst is a member of the board from District 6, which includes Prairie Hills Schools.

When it comes to wearing masks in schools, Horst said, “I’m not sure if it’s necessary, but it’s probably a good thing that we may be into wearing masks for quite a long time so if that’s the case we probably want our children getting used to wearing them and seeing why they’re important.”

She said she thinks kids are capable of wearing them.

“I think it’s sort of like everything else if you’re wearing one than [kids] think they need to wear one too...and if you’ve seen some of the little kids masks with kitty cats, doggies, and some extent kids like wearing things like that so I think they may be better about wearing them than we think they will be but I think it depends on how the adults around them are.”

When asked about Prairie Hills ruling on masks, Horst said she thinks local school boards know their constituents best, which is why the guidelines were formed with flexibility in mind.

“If for some reason they see that that wasn’t the best decision, they can always change it but I would support the fact that they’re able to make their own decision.”

According to Board Member Ann Mah, who represents District 4, the board received updated information from physicians that said younger children are capable of wearing masks.

She also said school districts approached the state board for more specific guidelines that can be used for their districts.

“As we learn more about COVID-19, as we learn how to teach in this environment we’re going to be updating both our academic and our operational guidelines to help teachers and districts out,” she said.

“Everybody just needs to keep in mind that everybody wants what’s best for kids and we believe what’s best for kids is for them to be in school but they needs to be in school safely.”

Prairie Hills Board of Education President Ed Ed Reznicek, who voted against the school reopening plan which included making face masks optional said he voted this way because he wanted more strict measures on masks to protect public health at the start of the school year.

13 NEWS could not reach out to all board members who voted for the order in time for original airing of this story. Those that were reached did not immediately return request for comment.

The updates come as Attorney General Derek Schmidt released his formal legal opinion that county commissions and local school boards can adopt different public health measures than Executive Order 20-59 issued by Governor Laura Kelly.

Copyright 2020 WIBW. All rights reserved.

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