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Masks recommended but optional for the new school year at USD 428
usd 428 district office
Great Bend USD 428 District Education Center.

Masks will be optional for students and staff when school resumes next week in Great Bend USD 428.

The school board met Monday and provided guidance to the administration as it works on its “2021-2022 Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services” plan.

Some board members received several calls and emails on the subject, while others received only a few. There was no clear consensus from the public.

Superintendent Khris Thexton said the Legislature has put the decision-making in local hands.

“Last year we were fully masked when we started the year and we finished the year without (required) masks,” Thexton said. The district will need a flexible plan that can be revised if an increase in COVID-19 cases indicates a return to mandated masks is needed. 

One area where masks will be required is in district vehicles carrying more than one person, including school buses. The district risks losing federal funding if it doesn’t comply with that rule, Thexton said. “If you climb on that bus, you have to be masked.”

Board member Lori Reneau said, “I feel we should strongly recommend masks but not require it.” She added that no student should be bullied or ridiculed for choosing to wear a mask.

Assistant Superintendent John Popp predicted 50% of the families in the district will want their students to wear masks.

District officials also hope to see fewer students away from school because of quarantines for close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19. The board agreed that the social distance requirement can be reduced from 6 feet to 3 feet and quarantines will be for 10 calendar days. Originally they lasted 14 days.

Board President Jacquie Disque said the Barton County Health Department will make quarantine recommendations. Children 12 years of age or older are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine and students who are vaccinated will be less likely to be quarantined because someone close to them tests positive.

With the Delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19, the district faces new factors and will need to adjust as situations arise, Thexton said. The board’s direction gives the administration the power to assess the situation weekly or more often if needed and if a mask mandate in a building or district-wide is the best option, that step can be taken without waiting for the next board meeting.

Other changes for the start of the school year:

• Staff won’t be taking temperatures when students enter the building, as they did last year.

• Students will be able to have lockers this year. Last year they did not have assigned lockers so there would be less congregation in the hallways.

• Per the Legislature, there will be no Remote Learning option this year. Students who are home sick or in quarantine can still get their assignments online and use their wireless devices, but they won’t be sitting in on classes via Zoom or other remote programs.

Editor’s note: This is a preliminary report on Monday’s school board meeting. This story will be updated on Tuesday.