Easton school board approves mask requirement

Other districts to discuss issue next week

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times
Students wearing masks exit the Leavenworth Intermediate School last year. The Easton Board of Education voted this week to require students and staff to wear masks in Easton public schools for the start of the upcoming school year. The Leavenworth Board of Education and other local school boards will be discussing the issue next week.

The Easton Board of Education voted this week to require students and staff members to wear face coverings when the new school year begins later this month. And it is expected other local school boards will discuss the issue when they meet next week.

Easton Superintendent Tim Beying said the Easton board had approved a school reopening plan more than one month ago that did not require masks.

"Quite frankly, four weeks ago things looked a lot different from the standpoint of numbers and obviously the CDC recommendation and all of that," Beying said. "Those things, I think, have brought us to a little different place."

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated guidance recommending that even people who have been vaccinated for COVID-19 should wear masks indoors in public in areas of substantial or high transmission of the virus.

According to a CDC website, most counties in Kansas, including Leavenworth County, are considered to be high transmission areas.

Leavenworth County has seen a spike in coronavirus cases in recent weeks. On June 21, the Leavenworth County Health Department reported six new cases in a weekly update. On Monday, the Health Department reported 256 new cases in a weekly update.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment adopted CDC's updated guidance last week and recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, other staff, students and visitors to elementary, middle and high schools regardless of vaccination status.

The KDHE also recommends adults and children wear masks on schools buses regardless of their vaccination status.

The mask recommendations do not apply to children who are under the age of 2.

Despite the KDHE recommendations, Gov. Laura Kelly said last week that decisions about school mask requirements will be left up to the State Board of Education and local school boards.

Beying said the Easton Board of Education may revisit the issue on a monthly basis.

The school boards for the Leavenworth, Lansing and Basehor-Linwood districts are scheduled to meet Monday.

As of press time, an agenda for next week's Leavenworth Board of Education meeting had not been released. Jake Potter, director of public relations for Leavenworth public schools, said he anticipates district officials will make reopening recommendations to board members Monday.

In May, Leavenworth school board members voted to make masks optional.

"It would take a board decision to change that," Potter said.

Potter acknowledged the issue of masks in schools is a politically divisive topic and one that is emotionally charged. He said this makes it difficult for district officials to arrive at a solution that everyone is comfortable with at a time when people want to get back to normal as soon as possible.

Lansing Superintendent Dan Wessel said Lansing Board of Education members also will discuss the issue Monday.

Lansing school board members voted in June to no longer require masks in school.

Wessel said last week that factors related to issue are changing fast.

"It's still a fluid situation unfortunately," he said.

In July, the Basehor-Linwood school district released a Safe Return to Schools Plan that recommended unvaccinated people wear masks. But the plan did not make masks mandatory.

When Basehor-Linwood school board members meet Monday, Superintendent Doug Powers will discuss possible updates to the plan.

According to Powers, CDC and KDHE recommendations will be presented to board members as well as current COVID-19 statistics for the area. A local physician also will speak to the board and give recommendations.

Twitter: @LVTNewsJohnR