Parent questions mask rule for USD 382 students

Ruby Howell
Pratt Tribune
Members of the USD 382 Board of Education listen to a parent speak during their August 10 meeting. Students in certain classes and age groups will be required to wear masks when they go back to school on August 26.

On Monday, August 10, at 7 pm, the Pratt High School Board of Education held their monthly meeting. A video of the meeting was live-streamed and is available on the USD 382 website as well at the Youtube page, USD 382 Board of Education. 

There were several concerns and pieces of important information that were presented to the board. First was a presentation by Kevin Melvin. He voiced his concerns about elementary school children being required to wear masks and aimed to share his reservations and not to create division. As a father of children in the Pratt school district, he said he was unsure if the board had given enough thought to the long term negative effects that wearing masks may have on the children wearing them. Melvin also said that wearing masks taught children to be scared of things they shouldn’t be. He stressed that wearing masks in school should remain a choice. 

“These masks don’t guarantee safety,” he said. “All these industrial-strength chemicals that are getting put into the school sure don’t guarantee anyone safety. They might kill a few germs, but we have yet to see what the effects of those are. I just think everyone has gone a little too far a little too fast. We are respectful that it is a fluid situation and that things change. But when will it end?” 

Superintendent Tony Helfrich reported that the middle school will be using a platform called Istation to be progress mapping in their classes. He also said that the high school is moving away from the NWEA progress testing that was in classrooms last year because it wasn’t really meeting the goals of what Pratt wanted from it, and will cut costs. Helfrich also thanked Skyland Grain for the generous donation of $5,000 to startup the high school’s new FFA and Ag classes. 

Pratt High School Principal Steve Blankenship, presented the possibility to the board of allowing juniors eat lunch off-campus. Usually, only seniors and those that live within five blocks of the school are allowed to leave for lunch. However, due to this year’s unforeseen circumstances, there is no way that the high school commons and mezzanine can hold grades 9-11 with social distancing in order. 

Blankenship said that that even with added tables when spaced out every other chair, there were 152 seats in total. In grades 9-11, there are 268 kids. He said that if they let Juniors leave, they would be in the range of 152 kids in the lunchroom and that there was no way to fit 200+ seats in the school. The possibility of adding another lunch period was mentioned and would be doable, but Blankenship said that it would be very difficult with high schoolers’ differing schedules. 

On the side of pandemic-related changes in the everyday school-going, a survey was sent to parents and teachers to gauge their level of concern about children K-4 wearing masks. 

According to Helfrich, there were two options on the survey: one was to require children to wear masks all day unless they were six feet apart from anyone else. Option two was that children wear masks, but if they are at desks with sneeze guards/ shield then they could take them off. 

The majority of teachers and parents felt at ease with option two. Right now, anytime a student of staff is less than six feet apart they need to wear masks. Those are guidelines from local doctors, a KU work-group of pediatricians, the governor’s executive order, and the KSDE. Those same authorities do not recommend taking temperatures when entering the school, however, guests and visitors will be screened. 

Helfrich said that in the case of a student testing positive, the requirements to return to school remain, at this time, a minimum of ten days with no symptoms. Schools will never require a negative test to return, as test results can take a long time to return with results. 

As always, these regulations and guidelines are very volatile and are subject to change. 

The Pratt Board of Education meets every second Monday of the month at 7 p.m.