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Millard Public Schools sticking to mask-optional policy

Millard Public Schools sticking to mask-optional policy

COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths continued to climb in Nebraska last week as the state's summer surge pushes toward fall.

Masks will remain optional in Millard Public Schools, except as necessary in isolated situations to control the spread of COVID-19, the superintendent said Tuesday.

But Superintendent Jim Sutfin and several board members said they are willing to change that approach if the case numbers warrant it.

The board took one hour of testimony on its optional mask policy Tuesday night. They heard from 26 people who argued the pluses and minuses of masking up kids.

Sutfin said requiring masks turns teachers into “mask police,” it hurts communication between teachers and students, and it’s disruptive to education.

But he said it’s not as disruptive as a classroom closure. He said parents must help keep rooms open by keeping home kids with COVID-19.

“It is time for all of us to start rowing this boat together,” Sutfin said. “If we have to, we will close the room. And if I have to close rooms at the same rate I had to close them at the beginning of the year, then I will be back in front of the Board of Education proposing stricter guidelines.”

Sutfin said that would mean asking the school board to impose a mask mandate.

Millard kids returned to school Aug. 11 with masks optional. Within days the district closed two classrooms at Montclair Elementary Schools, one at Upchurch Elementary and one at Cody after clusters of positive cases.

On Aug. 27, Sutfin announced stricter protocols for responding to COVID-19 cases in elementary schools. The new rules called for more aggressive masking in classrooms and schools when cases turned up.

Board member Mike Pate said Tuesday he is opposed to a mask mandate and hasn’t changed his position.

“I don’t think that’s our role,” he said. “Parents are very intelligent. They know what’s right and wrong. They can make the choices for their children.”

Board member Mike Kennedy said at this time he’s unwilling to change the approach unless there’s “a major spike and a major spread” in cases.

But he said he would consider masking if the district has trouble keeping schools open.

Board member Dave Anderson said he doesn’t listen to the “extremes” at either end of the mask arguments.

“If you’re on the extremes, I’m really not paying a lot of attention,” he said.

He said he’s probably a swing vote on the board.

Anderson said if the cases go up and classrooms get closed “I don’t know if masks work or not, but I’ll do whatever to keep the classes open.”

On Tuesday, Millard reported 82 active cases in students and staff districtwide. That’s 0.3% of the population of students and staff.

Millard’s enrollment is about 23,630 students., 402-444-1077

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Joe covers education for The World-Herald, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school. Phone: 402-444-1077.

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