3 new Wichita school board members call special meeting to address mask mandate
WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Update: Due to incoming winter weather, the Wichita Public Schools Board of Education special meeting set for Thursday, Feb. 17, has been delayed until Tuesday, Feb. 22.
Three new members of the school board for the state’s largest district are continuing their push to see some COVID-19 protocols, namely mask requirements, dropped.
A month into their service on the Wichita Public Schools Board of Education, Kathy Bond, Diane Albert and Hazel Stabler called a special meeting for Thursday, Feb. 17, to address COVID protocols and mask mandates in the district.
Since August, the district has had a mask-wearing requirement in all its buildings.
“The objective of the meeting is to remove the mask, give parents the authority to make health decisions for their children and make masking optional,” the call for the special meeting from the three board members said. “In addition to change the COVID protocols to match other illnesses.”
In a 4-3 vote last week (Feb. 7), the Wichita Public Schools Board of Education voted down a motion to remove its mask mandate that has been in effect for most of the school year.
Albert, Bond, and Stabler, voted in favor of ending the mandate. The trio has been vocal against the mask requirements, most notably on Jan. 11, when they refused to wear masks as required by USD 259 policy at what was supposed to have been their first meeting on the board. Their actions and that of others at the meeting led Wichita BOE President Stan Reeser to cancel that meeting. The board met the following week with Albert, Bond and Stabler being sworn in on Jan. 18.
“We were elected to represent our constituents, our population, and this is a die that hasn’t been represented at the table, Albert said. “These people are begging this mandate to be removed.”
On Feb. 7, Reeser and fellow incumbent board members Julie Hedrick, Sheril Logan and Ernestine Krehbiel voted in favor of keeping the mandate in place for now. Reeser said the primary objective for the board is to keep students in school, and while masks aren’t foolproof against COVID-19, they are tool to mitigate the spread. For now, signs across all Wichita Public School buildings say you must wear a mask.
“We hear the ones that really want us to take the off yesterday, and we hear the ones that want them to eep them on until the end of the school year,” Logan said. “So, we’ve got to make a tough choice, knowing that we’re not going to please everybody, no matter what.”
Logan, who retired from the Wichita school district in 2011, has been a board member since that year.
“In my 11 years, we’ve had to close buildings, we’ve had to cut budgets. Now, we’re dealing with COVID,” she said. “The difference is COVID’s been going on forever and ever, it feels like. So, we’re ready to have it move on.”
Districtwide, COVID cases are on the decline for both Wichita public school students and staff after a peak in cases in mid-January.
“This is changing pretty dramatically right now. The numbers are going in the right direction, which we are very happy about,” Logan said. “We’re still a little bit high with our quarantines, but the other numbers are looking really good.”
Albert said masks should still be available, but the decision to wear them should be decided by individual adult staff members and parents of students.
“If they want to wear a mask, we will provide to those that want them,” Albert said. “But we just want the parents, the families and the teachers to be able to make those decisions for themselves. It shouldn’t come from the board of education.”
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