With the start of the school year just around the corner, one school district in the Omaha metro area has announced that masks will be required for its youngest students — who are not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.
Westside Community Schools Superintendent Mike Lucas said Monday that his district will require masks for all elementary students, along with staff and anyone visiting elementary buildings. He announced the changes at the district’s school board meeting.
In a letter to families on Monday night, Lucas said families of students younger than 12 do not yet have the choice whether to get their kids the COVID-19 vaccine.
Children under 12 are not eligible for vaccines, but medical initiatives are underway nationally to provide the vaccine to younger children.
Westside secondary students and staff will have the choice whether to wear masks because they are eligible to receive the vaccine.
Lucas said that the plan is a starting point and that the district will reevaluate it by Sept 17, and possibly sooner if conditions warrant it. The Westside school year starts Aug. 17.
Gov. Pete Ricketts has said schools should convene in person without mask or vaccine requirements.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, experts from the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the American Academy of Pediatrics have all recommended that students and staff wear masks in school, regardless of their vaccination status.
At a school board meeting across town, Omaha Public Schools Superintendent Cheryl Logan reiterated her district’s plans, which were announced last week.
“When school opens in a few weeks, our students and staff will have the option of wearing a face covering inside our schools and facilities,” Logan said.
Face coverings will be offered at every building in the district. Logan said the district is recommending that students and staff who have not been vaccinated wear masks when they are in a school building.
“We will continue to consult with public health officials, including the Douglas County Health Department, to assess whether updates or changes need to be made to our layered approach to health and safety,” she said.
Logan said families and staff should monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 and not go to school or work if they are ill.
The district has held or scheduled more than 60 pop-up vaccination clinics at schools for eligible students and families as the school year nears.
OPS officials have said many safety protocols from the 2020-21 school year will continue, such as frequent handwashing and enhanced disinfection of high-touch surfaces, classrooms and shared materials.
Two parents spoke during the OPS meeting Monday night and asked the school board to implement a mask mandate, especially for younger children who are not yet eligible for vaccination.
Parent Erik Peterson asked the board to mandate masks for schools with children younger than 12. He said just recommending masks amounts to nothing, leaving the young children unprotected.
World-Herald Staff Writer Nancy Gaarder contributed to this report.