Westside Community Schools and Papillion La Vista Community Schools both announced on Friday they will require face masks for all students and staff beginning next week.
Both school districts cited an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases since school started as the reason for the change.
Starting Monday, all students and staff in both districts will be required to wear a mask while inside district facilities.
In Papillion La Vista, the change will be in effect “until further notice,” the district’s announcement said.
In Westside, masks will be required through Sept. 24, and an updated announcement will be made in the middle of the month.
Papillion La Vista began the new school year with a mask-optional policy.
But Monday, school board members signaled that the policy could change if conditions did, and they authorized the superintendent to make protocol changes without a board vote.
Classes at Papillion La Vista resumed on Aug. 12. According to a note to families, since that time, the Sarpy/Cass Health Department has closed three classrooms and cases have increased from 28 on Monday to more than 105 as of Friday.
Cases are being reported at all school levels, they said.
“Requiring masks supports the PLCS priority to keep students learning in person at school all year, with the particular intent to prevent any additional classroom closures,” the announcement said.
People who arrive at schools without a mask will be provided one.
At Westside, masks will be required regardless of vaccination status.
Westside started the school year by requiring masks for its youngest students — who are not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.
In a letter to families on Friday, Westside Superintendent Mike Lucas wrote that the decision will be applauded by some and others will disapprove, but district officials think the requirement is needed to keep everyone safe.
Lucas said the primary factor for the change was an increase in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases at the middle and high school level this week.
Last week, through contact tracing protocols, district officials were able to determine with confidence that all confirmed cases at the district’s middle and high school were likely not related to school.
The note to parents said that changed late this week as several cases look likely to be connected. This week, the district also has had an increase in the number of seventh through 12th grade students needing to be quarantined as a result of direct exposures without masks.
“This was another driving force in our decision-making process,” the note said.
“We know that ‘masks’ have become a very divisive topic, and we appreciate all points of view,” Lucas wrote. “We are doing what we think is best to ensure that we can keep our students and staff as safe as possible and in school, so they aren’t negatively impacted by confirmed cases or quarantines.”
The two school districts will join the Omaha Public Schools and the Ralston Public Schools in requiring masks.
Meanwhile, Millard Public Schools Superintendent Jim Sutfin announced Friday stricter protocols for responding to COVID-19 cases in elementary schools.
He did not call for universal masking districtwide.
But the new rules call for more aggressive masking in classrooms and schools when cases turn up.
He outlined how the district will respond when a case is brought into a school and involves close contact.
If one confirmed case occurs in a classroom, all others in the class will be required to mask for 14 days following the last unmasked exposure.
If two or more classrooms in a school are closed within a 14-day period because of transmission, all students and staff in the school will be required to wear a mask inside the building for 28 days following the second class exposure.
The strategies are aimed at keeping classrooms open and stopping the spread of COVID-19 brought into the room, he said.
“I understand that some of you will think this is not going far enough, while others will think it is going too far,” he said.
He said that while the district has closed four elementary classrooms, it still has 529 open classrooms. But there is exposure in some elementary classrooms, he said.
Masks won’t be required during physical education or outdoor recess, he said.