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USD 383 makes masks optional at high school level

Published: Oct. 20, 2021 at 8:32 PM CDT
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MANHATTAN, Kan. (WIBW) - The Manhattan-Ogden School District approved a plan making masks optional in their high schools.

USD 383 heard the proposal from Superintendent Dr. Marvin Wade at its Wednesday night meeting. The district has had a mask requirement since students returned to class in person.

Watch the meeting on the USD 383 YouTube channel

Under the proposal, starting Nov. 1, masks will be optional for students, staff, and visitors at Manhattan High School’s east and west campuses. Masks would continue to be required for students, staff and visitors at the district’s middle schools, elementary schools, early learning centers, and any other indoor USD 383 facility. In addition, masks would be required on district transportation, under federal requirements.

A motion to amend the proposal to make masks optional for all students and staff failed on a 5-2 vote.

One board member took issue with a portion of the proposal which encourages students age 5 to 11 receive the vaccine when it is available. A motion to remove that language was approved, along with the rest of the plan, on a 6-1 vote.

The changes will be in effect from Nov. 1 through 19, which the district says is a three-week, uninterrupted block of school days. They will use the time to evaluate case numbers, masking options, and testing capabilities. The board would then take action on another update to its Pandemic Response Plan before Nov. 19. They could opt to re-instate district-wide masking requirements at that time.

In addition to the change on masking, other aspects of the proposal allow limited volunteers and parents back into school buildings, but not during lunch periods. It also covers who would be considered a close contact, requirements for support staff, and encouragement for students and staff to get vaccinated.

Before their discussions, board members heard from the district’s teachers union representatives. The group noted teachers, like many people, are divided on what requirements should be in place. However, all shared a concern of keeping students learning in person, in the schools.

Wade noted both Riley County’s and the district’s numbers are improving, but the virus is not gone. Information presented to the board showed the district had 112 students quarantining the week of Sept. 5-11, versus 78 students quarantined Oct. 3-9.

One parent addressed the board, expressing concerns about risks she said are associated with wearing masks. However, others told the board younger students still are not yet eligible for vaccination, and many older students remain unvaccinated, which they feel put classmates and staff at risk. One high school student expressed concerns over making masks optional, sharing how a friend of hers attends a school with that policy and is ridiculed when she chooses to wear a mask.

Board members were divided in their views. Some expressed masking should be a personal choice for families. Others felt masks continued to be beneficial with numbers just now trending down, with one noting the policy would be reviewed in three weeks, regardless what action was taken.

The full proposal is posted on the USD 383 web site.

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