BEATRICE – The Beatrice School District is dropping its mandate for requiring masks in buildings, making them optional for the remainder of this school year.
The Board of Education’s 6-1 vote to make the change reserves the option of reinstating the requirement, should there be an outbreak of coronavirus cases, sudden spikes or increased positivity rates.
The action comes as Covid cases have been trending downward in the Public Health Solutions Health District. Superintendent Jason Alexander says the policy change does not end quarantine rules.
"If a student tests positive and is not wearing a mask and comes into contact with other students that are not wearing masks, then that contact tracing will be in effect and quarantine orders will be in place. That's all I wish that everybody understands, tonight...and I think it's prudent for everybody to understand that. Because, as we approach the end of the school year, there are some people in here with senior students and others...that if they would become in contact with a student that tests positive or an adult that tests positive, during a certain time period...it could result in some consequences that could be pretty costly to that individual."
Beatrice School District parent Amy Southwick says the decision on masks should rest with parents…and feels the district is at a point where the masks aren’t doing much to prevent spread of the virus.
"I know the seven of you are doing your best, but you don't know my child....I do. I should have the right to make the decision on what's best for him or her. And, I think there's a lot of parents out there that feel that way. But, when you speak up, you get chastised, you get ridiculed and most people just don't want to deal with it."
Some parents have blamed the wearing of masks on an increase in mental health problems among students.
The Beatrice School District is recent weeks provided Covid vaccinations for teachers and Nebraska has been upping its number of vaccinations overall…now available to anyone 16 and older. School Board member Janet Byars says enough time has gone by since vaccination has become more common.
"I'm comfortable going to optional masks at this point and again, the responsibility will totally fall on the parents. If you have a senior and you are adamant that you want them to go through graduation, then I would really recommend your child continue to wear a mask. That's totally up to you."
The board’s vote was met by applause from a small group of parents who have been critical of the mask mandate over several months and who have been attending board meetings.