Superintendent reviews mask policy

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times

The superintendent of Leavenworth public schools recommends the district's mask policy remain in place for now.

Superintendent Mike Roth reviewed data related to COVID-19 absences Monday during a meeting of the Leavenworth Board of Education. Roth recommended no changes to the policy, and board members took no action.

Roth recommended board members review the matter again in December. He suggested the use of COVID-19 vaccines may be expanded to more children by that time.

Currently, a COVID-19 vaccine has been authorized for use for children who are 12 and older.

The district currently utilizes what school officials refer to as situational masking. This requires people to wear masks indoors when they are unable to stay three feet apart for 15 minutes or longer.

Roth said the mask policy is based on reducing absences resulting from people being placed in quarantine.

He said having everyone wear masks reduces the number of people who might be quarantined because of possible exposure to the coronavirus.

"The whole point of the masking, from my prospective, has always been about quarantine and controlling quarantine," Roth said. "And we don't currently get to do that. It's based on the decision from the county health officer."

The superintendent said he cannot waive or shorten the length of a quarantine.

He said the mask policy is intended to keep children in school with as few disruptions as possible.

Roth acknowledged the masks may not be comfortable.

"But kids are in front of teachers," he said. "Kids are learning."

Roth reviewed the number of student absences during the current school year that have been related to COVID-19 or quarantines.

The number of absences reached a high of 275 during the week of Aug. 30 through Sept. 3.

The number of absences during the week of Sept. 27 through Oct. 1 was 77.

Roth said the decrease in the number of student absences is one of the positive things related to COVID-19.

"We're trending correctly," he said.

Roth attributed the decrease to parents keeping their children home when they do not feel well or potentially have been exposed to the virus outside of school. The superintendent said he believes the protocols used at the schools also are helping.

The superintendent also reviewed the number of staff absences related to COVID-19 and quarantines. This number reached a high of 36 during the week of Aug. 23 through Aug. 27. The number of staff absences during the week of Sept. 27 through Oct. 1 was 21.

Roth said district officials are concerned about a shortage of teachers.

"This is one of the most critical issues with COVID for any school district," he said.

In addition to a shortage of classroom teachers, there also is a concern about a lack of substitute teachers being available. When there are not enough substitute teachers, classes are combined, which Roth said "shrinks" a classroom and increases the risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

Twitter: @LVTNewsJohnR

In other business

The Leavenworth Board of Education:

• Board President Judi Price read a statement at the beginning of the meeting regarding recent vandalism in schools.

She blamed the vandalism on students who were inspired by a challenge posted on the TikTok social media platform.

She said there have been 130 cases of vandalism at the Leavenworth public schools during the last month, resulting in about $6,000 in damage to materials. She said this dollar figure does not reflect the labor that has been involved in cleaning up the vandalism.

"This ongoing student behavior is unacceptable, period," Price said.

She asked parents to talk to their children about the issue. She also asked students to consider their choices and the possible consequences.

Price said students could face suspension, expulsion and criminal charges for such behavior.

• Reviewed enrollment numbers for the school district.

Amy Sloan, executive director of human resources and support services, said the student headcount in the district has increased by 75 compared to the last school year.

According to information presented by Sloan, this year's student headcount is 3,688. The headcount for the 2020-2021 school year was 3,613.