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Masks optional at USD 428
School board approves dropping mask requirement
Wearing masks, Great Bend High School students participate in the Veterans Day activities last November. Following action by the USD 428 School Board Thursday, masks will no longer be required in district buildings. - photo by Tribune file photo

Starting Friday, face masks are optional at Great Bend USD 428.

The change in the district’s Restart Policy that went into effect at the start of the school year applies to students and staff. The school board approved it Thursday with the proviso that no one should be shamed or harassed if they continue to choose to wear masks. The board also reserves the power to reinstate mandatory masks if there is an increase in COVID-19 cases that appears to warrant it.

Thursday afternoon, the district sent this message to parents of students:

“The USD 428 Board of Education has revised the district’s Restart Plan as it pertains to health precautions in our schools. Effective Friday, April 30, the wearing of face masks will be a recommendation in the layered strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While recommended, masks will be optional for students, staff, and visitors in USD 428 buildings for the remainder of the school year. 

“Enhanced hygiene measures, cleaning/sanitization schedules, and social distancing will still be practiced. Community health and building health will continue to be monitored and mask requirements could be put back in place as needed. It is the intent of USD 428 to make this transition in a respectful and considerate manner.

“Despite the challenges of this year, we remain extremely proud of all that our students and staff have accomplished. We have many reasons to celebrate, as we look back and as we look forward to the remaining three weeks of the school year. 

“Questions can be directed to the District Education Center at 620-793-1500.”

Superintendent Khris Thexton said parents were invited to share their thoughts on the subject via an online survey this week, open from Monday through Wednesday. Roughly 2,000 emails were sent to notify patrons of the survey and there were more than 1,300 responses. “Roughly 75% of those favored removing (mask requirements).”

In an earlier survey of staff, 54% who responded felt much the same.

School board members approved of the measure.

“This is probably the safest period of the year,” board member Susan Young said. Many people are vaccinated and removing masks would end the school year on a high note.

“I like seeing that we have models; communities around us have removed masks,” board member Deanna Essmiller said.

Thexton said that on Wednesday there were five students on quarantine, four from the high school and one from an elementary school, and as of Thursday the high school students were back in school. “So right now we have maybe one quarantined student and that quarantine was not related to a school contact.” Someone in that student’s family tested positive for COVID-19, he explained.

Board member Jacquie Disque, a nurse, said she checked the latest COVID-19 numbers posted by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. “According to that the overall positivity rate in Barton County for all ages remains less than 5% and that’s since Jan. 17.” For school-age children, 5-17 years old, Disque said the positivity rate for all of Barton County has been less than 10% since Jan. 10.

The only exception was the week of Spring Break, when only three school-age children were tested and one was positive, making the rate 33%.

“We’ve made it through Spring Break, Easter Break, Hollyball and state assessments, and we’ve seen no increase in cases for the last several weeks,” Disque added.