USD 253 students and staff will be back in person for the coming school year, however, mask use and other mitigation strategies will be present as well.
The USD 253 Board voted 4-2 Wednesday evening to accept a recommendation from the district’s COVID-19 advisory committee that will see mandatory mask use for all students and visitors under the age of 11 as they are not eligible for vaccinations at this time. Mask use for students and visitors over the age of 12, as well as staff, will be optional inside district facilities, however, it will be mandatory on school buses.
Masks will not be required outdoors or during sporting events and the district will try to maintain cohorts with three feet of social distancing during certain classes such as P.E., music and art classes. Hand sanitizer will be available for all students during lunch and three feet of social distancing will need to be maintained whenever possible.
The food service department will be utilizing plexiglass as a secondary barrier with staff needing to wear masks if they are unvaccinated. Visitors will also be required to sign in and out of each building for contact tracing purposes.
Of the six board members in attendance, Wednesday, Mike Crouch and Mellisa Ogleby both voted against the recommendation for differing reasons. Crouch stated he would have preferred the district choose to implement optional mask use across all age groups giving parents more of an ability to choose what they feel is best for their students.
He says “we’re a year and a half into this and personal responsibility has to start to come into play.”
Ogleby was of a different mind on the matter as she proposed a separate motion that the board choose to move forward with universal mandatory mask use across all ages vaccinated or not. Her reasoning she says was based on recent recommendations from both local and federal health experts.
Board President Art Gutierrez, Vice President Leslie Seeley, Jeremy Dorsey and Grant Riles voted in favor of the committee’s recommendation. Dorsey says the topic of masks has become a very “polarizing” subject and he feels Wednesday’s decision was a “reasonable middle ground.”
Gutierrez shared Dorsey’s feelings on the matter and says his main concern is not about masks, but rather ensuring students are able to attend school in person for as long as possible.
Gutierrez says there is a possibility that the board’s decision is rendered moot as Kansas Governor Laura Kelly could decide to issue a statewide mandate affecting mitigation strategies in schools in the coming weeks much like she did last year. Regardless, Guttierez says the board will once again have to be as flexible as possible when it comes to decision-making over the course of the next year.
In other business, the board approved the legislative post audit (LPA) IT report, the 2021-2022 procurement plan for child nutrition programs, the district emergency operations plan and the continuation of the popular RecXtra afterschool program in partnership with the Emporia Recreation Commission, Boys and Girls Club of South Central Kansas and the Emporia Arts Council for the 2021-22 school year.
The USD 253 Board of Education is next scheduled to meet Wednesday, Aug. 11 at 7 pm inside the Mary Herbert Education Center.