Wichita BOE votes against removing mask mandate
WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - In a 4-3 vote, the Wichita Public Schools Board of Education voted down a motion to remove its mask mandate that’s been in effect for most of the school year.
Three new school board members, Diane Albert, Kathy Bond, and Hazel 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, This 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.
On Monday, 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. Albert argued that the cloth masks typically worn by students are not sufficient to stop the spread and that the decision on whether students should wear masks at school should be left up to parents in the district.
For the school year, district implemented an indoor mask requirement in late August, less than two weeks after the first day. That mandate, implemented on Aug. 23, continues for now.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment, which tracks school districts’ COVID numbers across the state, Wichita Public Schools, Kansas’ largst district, sits at an 11.1 positivity rate, with more than 8,000 cases since August. Locally, the Derby and Maize school districts, without mask mandates in place, sit at positive COVID-19 test rates of 11.1 percent and 8.5 percent, as of last Wednesday, Feb. 2. But with overall COVID-19 numbers from Wichita Public Schools down since the beginning of the school year, the district’s COVID protocol team says the evidence is clear.
During Monday’s discussion, Bond asked Reeser what number the district needs to reach for him to be in favor of removing the mandate.
“First, we have to get through winter. There is no magic number,” Reeser said. “When we listen to the medical community, when they start giving us hints to start taking them off. I’m not a fortune teller on that.”
Among those frm the medical community weighing in on the issue was KU School of Medicine-Wichita Hospitaliist Dr. Paul Teran who said masking is one part of a multi-layer mitigation strategy.
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