Students in Blair Community Schools will be required to wear masks through the end of the school year, which is May 25, following a decision by the Board of Education during its regular meeting Monday.
The district, however, will make masks optional for all summer activities, for those outside groups using school facilities and for portions of graduation on Sunday.
Masks will be optional for seniors as they enter the gym during the processional, when they walk on stage to receive their diploma, as the choir and band performs and for speeches. Masks will be required for all spectators and when the seniors are sitting with their classmates
The board voted 7-2 on the recommendations from Supt. Randy Gilson. Board members Deb Parks and Denise Cada voted against.
“I've been against masks since Day 1. I was the only one who voted for no masks back in August,” Parks said. “I have a senior and she was OK with it just because she wanted to finish her senior year. That was the only reason.”
Gilson outlined the district's COVID-19 statistics for the year. There were 909 students placed in quarantine — 151 students tested positive for the virus, while 37 staff members tested positive.
Only 12 cases were from school-based transmissions.
“Overall, I want to compliment our students and staff on following all of the mediation protocol to make sure that our schools are a safe place for our students to be,” he said.
The district has seen a downward trend since nearly 80 percent of staff members have received the COVID-19 vaccine. Many students have also been vaccinated.
Board member Steve Callaghan said he believes the protocols put in place, including the masks and cleaning, have also helped.
“I know nobody likes wearing these (masks). I have to wear them three days a week when I go to sub. I don't enjoy it, but I think it's kept us in school. I really do,” he said.
With just over a week remaining in the school year, Gilson said it was important for students to remain masked through the end of the year.
“Every day matters. Why risk it now?” Gilson said. “Let's get to the end of the year.
While masks will be optional this summer, no decision was made on the 2021-22 school year. Gilson said the district could learn a lot from summer activities.
“It gives us an opportunity to assess and see how things go,” he said.
Prior to the board's discussion on the issue, several parents voiced their concerns and opinions on the mask requirement.
“Please unmask our children,” parent Chelsea Kugler said. “It causes a lot of anxiety for the kids. They have shown that kids don't typically get COVID. If they do get COVID, it's not as bad as adults.”
Parent Craig Heuton, who works in the Blair business community, said many businesses are no longer requiring masks, instead making them optional.
“If it's good enough for our businesses, I would suggest that that's good enough for our kids as well,” he said. “For those who want to wear them they certainly can, but those that don't, I don't feel should be forced or required to do so.”
Heuton thanked the teachers, administrators and the board for their work to keep kids in school this year.
“It doesn't fall on deaf ears because of the fact that we're even here, we had a great school year, is simply amazing,” he said. “I feel that this is the next evolution to get our kids back to a normal routine as well as back to living normal lives as a community.”
Board member Ginger Fredericksen thanked parents for their input. Initially, she said she considered voting to get rid of masks.
“But we also have to remember that there are some families are fearful for not wearing masks,” Fredericksen said. “I'm not saying that we should keep masks in place forever, but my view is we get rid of masks at the end of the school year and move forward.”
Board president Kari Loseke recognized the difficulty in making a decision.
“I don't want to wear this mask. I hate wearing this mask. My glasses fog up. I don't wear it at work,” she said. “But it's never been about me. The decisions that this board makes has never been about us personally and what we want. In the fall, we did what we thought we needed to do, which was going to be best for kids.”