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Wellington, Valley Center school districts to implement mask mandates

Published: Aug. 26, 2021 at 10:24 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Update Wednesday night, Sept. 1, 2021: School districts in Wellington and Valley Center on Wednesday evening moved forward with plans to implement temporary mask mandates in response to spikes in cases within the schools.

Wellington students have been out of school this week after the Sumner County Health Department deemed three of the district’s six buildings as COVID-19 outbreak schools. In a 6-1 vote Wednesday evening, the school board approved a leveled masking plan looking at four criteria: community gating, absentee, testing and positive cases per week.

Students and staff in Wellington schools will return to school Tuesday, Sept. 7, wearing masks. The immediate objective, board members said, is to get students back into school and to keep them there. Plans call for the district to revise and create a school-by-school criteria to use throughout the year.

The Valley Center school district also cited a spike in COVID-19 cases in the board’s decision to implement a temporary mask order that will start Friday, Sept. 3. The district said it will re-evaluate the mandate next week. It reports that 45 students and staff have COVID-19, up from eight positive cases on Aug. 23.

“We understand our families and staff may have varied opinions regarding masks, individual freedoms, and the health crisis. While there may not be common ground on those issues, yet most agree that in-person learning works best for the majority of students,” USD 262 Superintendent Cory Gibson said in a letter to parents. “We must do everything we can to stay open and keep our students and staff safe. Decisions like these are not taken lightly and are important. Reflecting our “Empty Chair Philosophy” we must consider the well-being of all of our students and staff.”

Update: The Wellington school board will meet Wednesday evening to discuss their COVID-19 measures.

The district closed down after a surge in cases.

During this closure, Superintendent Adam Hatfield said the district would be consulting with medical staff to determine how they should reopen next week. Currently, masks are only recommended along with physical distancing and KDHE guidelines for testing and quarantines.

Students are scheduled to remain out of school until Tuesday.

The Wellington school district said it’s temporarily closing all of its schools on Friday, Aug. 27 with plans to reopen on Sept. 7. This is due to the Sumner County Health Department deeming three of the district’s six buildings as COVID-19 outbreak schools, the district said.

The school closures include the suspension of sports practices and “other school-related events.”

“We will continue to monitor this evolving situation and provide regular updates via the USD 353 website, email, and text alerts,” Wellington School District Superintendent Adam Hatfield said in a letter to parents/guardians in the district. “We thank you, as always, for your patience and understanding while we continue to navigate this pandemic. We understand the frustrations and that this situation is not ideal, but the health and safety of our students and staff and community is our top priority.”

Eyewitness News spoke with parents and students who are upset, many saying they don’t know why masks weren’t required within the school system. Some students are worried stoppages like this could keep happening throughout the school year.

Hatfield said there were at least 40 positive cases, the highest at Eisenhower Elementary School, the middle school land the high school.

“It really scares us. I’m immunocompromised, my daughter had a heart problem at the beginning of last year, so, it’s terrifying,” Wellington parent Linda Hill said.

In a statement, Hatfield said the district was up to testing more than 200 students a day by Thursday and that it was only a matter of time before numbers were up in all six buildings. So, the decision was made to temporarily shut down schools.

“I’m scared that it’s going to affect my education because it’s really important to me and I’m concerned for those who are immunocompromised,” Wellington High School freshman Melanie Jayroe said.

The district said it’s working with its medical staff to reopen safely on Sept. 7 and is working on how to make up the few missed days of school, including Friday and all of next week.

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