OPS board votes to require masks inside schools

5 months ago 4

OPS board votes to require masks inside schools

The number of new cases has increased for the seventh straight week.

The Omaha Public Schools will join a growing number of Nebraska school districts requiring students to wear masks indoors when they return to classrooms next week.

The same for teachers and parents, though there will be some exceptions.

School board members voted Monday to require all people to wear masks indoors at school, effective Tuesday.

Students won’t have to wear them outdoors, so not for recess or activities like marching band. Students will be allowed to remove the masks while eating and drinking.

If teachers or staff are alone in their classrooms or offices, they will be allowed to unmask.

The resolution adopted by the board also allows people to go without a mask “when doing so creates a greater health, safety or security risk to the individual or public.”

“We have an issue in this country with a variant,” board member Tracy Casady said, “and until we can get a handle on it, I think this is the best possible solution we can do in our community to try to get our kids back in school and keep them there.”

The vote was 8-1, with Spencer Head voting no.

Head tried unsuccessfully to amend the resolution to have the mask mandate sunset Oct. 18, unless the board took action before then to extend it.

Superintendent Cheryl Logan said health professionals advised against setting a firm date.

Logan said district officials had hoped to avoid a mandate.

“We didn’t think that we would get here,” she said. “We were hopeful that we wouldn’t get here. But, alas, here we are today considering this one week from the start of school.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts has said schools should not require masks.

Also Monday, after hearing lengthy public testimony, the Millard Public Schools board decided to keep masks optional.

“The consensus on the board was the data wasn’t there for the change,” Millard board member Mike Kennedy said.

The OPS resolution made note of the July 27 guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending universal masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.

The Douglas County Health Department is advising local school districts to follow the CDC recommendation.

That recommendation came as the county's health director reported that cases among children under 19 had tripled in recent weeks, the largest of any age group.

Before the mandate was voted on, almost two dozen people testified at the board's special meeting. Some parents said they worried about sending their children back to school without a mandate. Others said the decision to wear a mask should be left with parents. Several pediatricians testified that masks would be essential to blunting spread of the delta variant.

“I’m very nervous for what’s coming,” said Sharon Stoolman, a pediatric hospitalist at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center.

Stoolman said she’s cared for children with COVID-19, from newborns to teenagers.

She asked the board to adopt a mandate.

“I’ve talked to my colleagues in Arkansas, who have experienced an extreme burden of COVID on their pediatric population in the last week and have placed children on heart-lung bypass, and they’re doing very experimental therapies to try to save children from COVID.”

She said she hoped that Nebraska would learn from other states that had bad experiences opening without mask mandates.

“This is not our grandparents’ COVID from last year,” she said. “The delta variant is different. It clearly has a different impact and affinity on children and the unvaccinated.”

The Westside, Ralston and Lincoln school districts have said they will require elementary students — most of whom are too young to receive the COVID-19 vaccines — and staff members to wear masks. The Grand Island Public Schools announced Monday that it would require masks for all students, staff and visitors. The district will reevaluate its decision in late September.

As of Monday, the Papillion La Vista and Bellevue districts were sticking with their plans to make masks optional.

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