OSAWATOMIE — Osawatomie USD 367’s mask mandate will continue thanks to action taken at a school board meeting Monday, Sept. 13.
A rise in COVID-19 cases prompted school board members to initially implement the mandate during a special school board meeting Sept. 3. It was to be in place until the Sept. 13 meeting, when school board members would again revisit the issue.
Superintendent Justin Burchett told the school board members during the Sept. 13 meeting that COVID-19 cases continue to rise. He said the district has seen a total of 49 cases so far this school year — 36 students and 13 staff members. At this time last year, the district had only seven cases, he said.
Burchett said Monday there currently are 22 active student cases and five active staff cases. There was only one active case at this time last year, he said.
Student absentee rate has also been on the rise, Burchett said. The rate Monday was about 8 percent, he said, but it was as high as nearly 15 percent on Sept. 8.
“At no point last year did we ever get close to that,” Burchett said.
School board member Dr. Jeff Dorsett made a motion to extend the mask mandate until the four statistical metrics provided to the board by Burchett each week are out of the orange high risk level or red extreme risk level for two consecutive weeks.
“That will never happen, and everybody here knows that,” an audience member said before being reminded that there is not open discussion with the audience during the meeting.
The four statistical metrics are absentee rate, percent positivity, incidents per 100,000 and hospital availability.
Burchett said the district was last in the green or yellow on March 19, and it went into the red the first week of August.
School board member Josh Barnett voted against the mask mandate Sept. 3 and again during the Sept. 13 meeting.
“We’re basically mandating it for the whole year with no option for change,” Barnett said.
The motion passed 4-2, with Barnett and fellow board member Marsha Adams voting “no.” Dorsett and fellow board members Ben Wendt, D.J. Needham and Gordon Schrader voted “yes.”
Later in the meeting, the board members also voted to authorize the payment of overtime to employees who are willing to test student-athletes over the weekend. Barnett voted against the motion as well, stating that he wishes the district would address the protocol that is requiring those tests rather than approve another expense.
“I just think we’re being so tunnel-visioned, we’re not looking at the big picture,” Barnett said.
Several community members, including teachers and parents, spoke during the public comment portion at the beginning of the Sept. 13 school board meeting, both in favor of and against the mask requirement.
Elizabeth Stout-Rhine, who teaches at Osawatomie High School, said she doesn’t like masks, but she does think they are necessary at this time.
“With numbers where they are, we need to be wearing masks in school right now,” she said.
Mark Seymour said he is against the mask mandate.
“Pass it again, I will pull my children, no if ands or buts,” he said. “You pass it, they’re gone tomorrow. I will do it myself. My choice, my children.”
One mother pleaded with the school board to keep the mask mandate in place because her child is high risk. Another mother asked the board to drop the mask mandate, and she showed the board members a cell phone video of her daughter’s oxygen levels dropping when she wears a mask.