PAOLA — Paola USD 368 school board members decided Monday, Sept. 13, to stay in Phase 1 of the district’s Safe Return to School Plan, which means masks will remain optional for now.
Three parents spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, all against the requirement of masks.
Masks would only be required under Phase 3 of the plan. District officials previously have said a significant rise in cases could prompt the district to go into Phase 2, which would require students or staff members who are quarantined due to a close contact to both wear a mask and get a daily COVID-19 test if they want to return to school during their quarantine. Phase 1 allows for students and faculty members in quarantine to attend school if they are asymptomatic and agree to wear a disposable surgical mask.
Superintendent Matt Meek previously said evidence of COVID-19 transmission taking place within the school district could lead to Phase 3, which is a districtwide mask mandate similar to the previous school year.
Meek said during Monday’s school board meeting that he can’t prove it definitively, but evidence suggests there has been some cases of transmission taking place within the school district.
School board member Randy Rausch was the only one who showed interest in considering Phase 3 and a mask mandate at this time.
Meek said he has been updating the district’s COVID-19 numbers each Friday on the district’s website. On the most recent Friday, there were 23 active cases with students and four active cases with staff members, which is an increase from the previous Friday, when there were 12 active cases with students and four with staff members.
During the meeting, the school board members did approve a revised version of the Safe Return to School Plan. Meek said the primary change is an addition that allows for a student in quarantine to be tested for COVID-19 in the afternoon if they want to participate in an after-school activity or athletic event without wearing a mask.
Meek said the tests are not a requirement, as the student could choose to stay home, and no test would be given without parent approval. Meek said the district qualified for a KDHE COVID testing grant, and about 2,000 antigen testing kits have already been delivered.
Meek added that if the district moved into Phase 2 and started requiring daily tests for all students in quarantine who wanted to return to school, he’s not sure he currently has the staff to be able to handle that.
Board member Tim Kelley said he is not in favor of testing, and he is not in favor of mandating masks.
“I am pro choice,” he said.
Rausch said he didn’t like the idea of adding testing requirements for after-school activities that aren’t applied for students in the everyday classroom.
Kelley and Rausch voted against the revised plan, but it passed with “yes” votes from Amanda Martell, Kelly Franke, Michelle Latto and Scott Golubski.