Millard Public Schools Superintendent Jim Sutfin assured parents Monday that he will scrutinize daily COVID-19 case data between now and Sept. 7, when the school board will reassess its mask-optional policy.
About 100 people attended Monday’s school board meeting in Nebraska’s third-largest school district. About two dozen people addressed the board on masking, splitting evenly between pro- and anti-mandate.
While some praised and thanked the board for last week’s decision giving parents a choice, others said the board was unnecessarily putting students at risk and should act now to impose a mask mandate.
Sutfin explained the steps the district was taking steps to monitor and mitigate spread, isolate students with the disease and alert parents whose child had a close contact.
For transparency, the district will continue to post case numbers on its COVID-19 dashboard, he said.
“We want to make sure that the public understands that we are dealing with, and living with, COVID, and trying to figure out the best way to keep our schools open and keep our students and our staff safe,” he said.
He said there will be cases in schools throughout the school year.
“We are not out of COVID,” he said. “We also have to anticipate that we may have to temporarily require masking or temporarily close a classroom, grade level or school.”
Sutfin said school officials will be working closely with the Douglas County Health Department to identify disease clusters.
Clusters of three or more cases in a classroom would indicate possible spread, he said.
School board Vice President Dave Anderson, who said he is virus-free but still recovering from a bout with COVID-19, told the crowd that no decision to alter the mask policy would be made at the meeting.
Anderson said the board could potentially consider an action item on Sept. 7.
The district opened the school year on Wednesday with masks optional for students at all grade levels.
The decision pleased parents who argued that masks are ineffective, are bad for a child’s physical and emotional health or should be a parent’s choice.
Others were disappointed, saying the board was putting children at unnecessary risk by rejecting a simple, effective mitigation against spread.
Andrew Hale, who supported masking, asked why the board was not implementing the protocols that worked to control the virus last year.
Hale said this year’s approach is “reactive.”
“We need proactive plans,” he said. “You’re going to be chasing the virus and chasing cases.”
Lexie Jenkins told the board that the mask-optional policy puts at risk her 3-year-old son, who has a compromised immune system.
Jenkins said she’s worried that her daughter, a Millard fourth grader, will bring the virus home.
Her daughter learned remotely last year. This year, to minimize potential exposure to her son, her daughter is not living at home.
“I don’t know if I would see my child alive again if they came down with COVID,” she said.
As of noon Monday, the district had 41 active cases among students and teachers, representing .15% of the student and staff population.
Sutfin said that because students under 12 have not been able to vaccinate, the district will be tracking and comparing the number of cases in students older and younger than 12, he said.
“We would be looking for, and watching, to see, does the number below 12 grow disproportionately compared to those above 12, those students who had the opportunity to vaccinate?” he said.