District officials, teachers adapting best methods for school startup

Kahrie Stegman
Pratt Tribune
USD 382 Superintendent Tony Helfrich conducts a video session explaining mask usage by students when classes resume on August 26, 2020.

With the start of school approaching rapidly on Aug. 26, many uncertainties still remain in the community about the reopening of schools. For many parents, the issue of facemasks is a controversial topic. 

“Bottom line, while Executive Order 20-59 is in place, we know that we will require students to wear masks for significant chunks of time,” said Pratt USD 382 Superintendent Tony Helfrich. 

Though face masks will be required for most of the time, some of the gray area is still up for debate. 

On July 31, Helfrich gave an update on about how the Board of Education is handling that issue and is actively working to do what is best for the kids and their families by surveying K-4th students’ parents and reviewing the guidelines set by the Kansas COVID Workgroup for Kids (KU Wichita Pediatrics & KS American Academy of Pediatrics-KCWK).

A survey will be sent out to all parents of K-4th grade students over text about face masks and the results will be shared with the BOE. 

“The survey will be one important data point. We want to do what we believe is best for helping our students grow the most they can—that’s not a simple equation,” Helfrich said. “The answers are not always cut and dried--multiple factors can lead to some variance on the experts’ opinions regarding various mitigation strategies. Ultimately, the group stuck to the current consensus that masks at K-12 was an important mitigation when 6-foot social distancing is not achievable.”

Along with reviewing the Kansas COVID Workgroup for Kids guidelines, Helfrich and the BOE are working with local doctors to review and plan for the upcoming school year, but plans can change depending on the current situation. 

“There will continue to be adaptation to our situation,” Helfrich said. “We will incorporate breaks and work within the parameters set by our local health professionals and continue to work with our local Health Department to make sure our most significant operational guidelines get a thumbs up.”

As for exactly when kids will be required to wear face masks at school, that depends on the situation. 

“There is a solid consensus that masks at Grades 5-12 (if indoors and unable to distance 6 feet or more) offer significant mitigation,” Helfrich said. “There is a recognition by this group that the mitigation benefits for ages PreK-4th are more uncertain due to multiple factors, but they ultimately recommend masks for students K-12.”

No matter what the outcome is for face masks, Helfrich hopes the community will lead the kids positively so they can be the best they can this school year. 

“I know there is heated debate on both sides of this particular question. But, we all agree we want to do what is best for kids. We need strong leadership from our parents to bring out the best in our kids,” Helfrich said. “They are tough. Our kids have won state championships and finished near the top many times in many activities. They did that by outworking their competition, pulling together, and making sacrifices for each other. We will do that here.”

Helfrich encourages parents to review the guidelines set by the Kansas COVID Workgroup for Kids. The full list of guidelines can be found on the USD 382 website under the “Covid19 Info” tab. 

“I believe Kansans and Prattans will work together and knock our numbers of active cases down,” Helfrich said.