WICHITA, Kan. (AP) – A Wichita school board meeting was called off when new members refused to wear masks and elected officials in the Topeka area rejected a call from health officials to mandate them.
Even though an increase in COVID-19 cases has strained hospitals and skyrocketed absences in school districts, most of the state was working with little to no new restrictions.
In Wichita, where the school district requires masks indoors, the three board members who refused to wear them were to be sworn in on Monday evening. They were recruited to be led by the Sedgwick County Republican Party as part of a nationwide effort to mobilize voters around issues such as mask warrants, mandatory vaccinations and critical race theory, reports The Wichita Eagle.
“This district cannot vote on the guidelines, policies and protocols that we expect from students, staff and visitors, while exempting members of the BOE,” said school board president Stan Reeser, as she suspended the meeting without calling it to order. “This is a message we cannot send.”
In the Topeka region, commissioners urged the public to be cautious but said they were not ready to demand masks.
“I am not convinced that masks are the answer to our problem,” said Commissioner Aaron Mays.
Erin Locke, a Shawnee County health worker, had applied for a one-month tenure, telling commissioners the community was at a “critical time in the pandemic.”
Some elective surgeries have been canceled due to the outbreak, and businesses and schools are expected to see waves of employees, students and teachers falling ill, she said.
In the Lawrence District, nearly 2,000 students have been absent from school every day since Thursday, Superintendent Anthony Lewis said at a school board meeting on Monday. These students make up nearly a fifth of the district’s total enrollment, reports the Lawrence Journal-World.
Over 100 teachers were also absent during the same period. More than 80% of these openings were filled by replacements. In other classes, principles and guidance counselors helped.
“This is our current reality. This is where we are at, ”said Lewis, who reported the information to the board remotely as he is in quarantine after testing positive for the virus.
University of Kansas provost Barbara Bichelmeyer told faculty and staff on Monday that classes would begin “on time and in person,” with the addition of a stricter mask policy for the instructors.
One of the rare examples of repression has occurred at Haskell Indian Nations University, which announced this week that the first three weeks will be conducted entirely online, reports the Lawrence Journal World.
Haskell plans to monitor the COVID-19 outbreak on a daily basis, and management will revisit the possibility of in-person classes during the first week of February.
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