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Topeka Public Schools to require universal masking to start school year

Published: Aug. 5, 2021 at 8:35 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Students, staff, and visitors will be required to wear masks in Topeka Public Schools buildings to start the school year, regardless of vaccination status.

The USD 501 Board of Education approved the policy at its meeting Thursday night. The vote was unanimous.

Board members said their focus was the safety of students and employees. They also said their decision is in line with Centers for Disease Control guidelines, which recommend universal masking inside K-thru-12 school buildings in areas with high coronavirus transmission. That standard would apply to nearly all of Kansas right now.

Masks could be removed outdoors, as per CDC guidance.

Vice President of the board Lalo Munoz said, “first off, what do medical experts say about this issue, what do our local health officials say about this issue. We also listened to a lot of parents and individuals who were concerned about our students and schools and ultimately, we decided to air on the side of safety. That comes first, the safety of students, of teachers and of staff.”

Board members said the policy could be revisited at any time. One board member suggested keeping the policy until CDC data showed the area back in moderate or low transmission data.

One board member noted a desire to keep the school year as normal as possible for students, and not have to return to remote learning, saying he felts masks could be a step to achieve that.

“We want to make sure students stay in the classroom. That’s first. That’s where they thrive and learn best. I think every parent who has taught their kids at home found how difficult that was. Teachers are masters at being able to engage their students and that’s where they should be and masking helps make sure that stays that way,” said Munoz.

The district’s policy also anticipates maintaining three feet of social distance in classrooms, and desks will continue be turned to face in the same direction or have students sit on only one side of tables. As for quarantining, fully vaccinated students and staff are exempt from all quarantine situations if they are asymptomatic. Those with a documented PCR or antigen test within the previous six months are exempt from quarantine if they are asymptomatic.

USD 501 anticipated posting its reopening plan online once it was approved.

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