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Springfield School Board votes against temporary masking mandate

Published: Jan. 28, 2022 at 7:11 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 28, 2022 at 6:59 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The Springfield School Board voted against a temporary mask mandate.

The school board voted 4-3. A mask mandate for faculty and visitors will remain in place.

Springfield Public Schools Superintendent Grenita Lathan asked the board to approve the masking mandate following a large amount of COVID-19 cases impacting students since the start of school in January. Since the winter break SPS has had over 2,200 new cases including 747 last week. The district turned to virtual learning on January 26 and will go back to in-school learning on January 31.

If the school board would have approved the masking mandate, it likely would have faced litigation from Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt. He has sued 45 districts in January for similar masking mandates.

Vote Count:

Charles Taylor - Yes

Shurita Thomas-Tate - Yes

Danielle Kincaid - Yes

Alina Lehnert - No

Denise Fredrick - No

Scott Crise - No

Maryam Mohammadkhani - No

A small crowd of about 20 people turned out for the Springfield Board of Education special meeting including a handful of those with signs who were against the mandate with wording like, “My tax, my kid, my choice...no mandate” and “Rules 4 kids but not 4 you?”

Ultimately they got what they wanted while Lathan did not.

Counting a break, the meeting went on for three hours with only board member Scott Crise briefly bringing up the elephant in the room...a possible lawsuit that Schmitt has threatened against any Missouri school district that requires masks for students.

Instead most of the talk centered around the students and community problems.

“There are strong opinions on the board and there are strong opinions in the community,” said board member Charles Taylor. “But once we act we go forward. We don’t scream or throw fits. I do think as an important pillar of the community the choices we make around this board table have a significant consequences for the community at-large.”

“The problem is with the healthcare system,” said board member Dr. Maryam Mohammadkhani of the large increase in patients at local hospitals because of the Omicron variant. “And I don’t feel this particular health order addresses what is being asked of us. Is this the right way to assist them?”

“Do I think this is the most direct way to help them? No, I don’t,” Taylor answered. “And I’m frustrated by that. But here we are.”

“Keeping students in a mask is not good for their social and mental well-being,” said Crise. “The CDC has indicated that cloth masks are not effective. Are we prepared to provide KN95 masks on a daily basis to each student?”

“But virtual communication with students is also not conducive for learning or building relationships,” countered board member Shurita Thomas-Tate. “I think students miss out more on social and emotional learning not just from wearing masks but also from having classes flipped back-and-forth between in-person versus virtual.”

Also discussed was lowering the proposed three-week mask mandate down to one week, requiring masks for extracurricular activities and how the mandate would be enforced.

But in the end the vote was 4 to 3 against the mandate with President Alina Lehnert casting the deciding vote.

Afterwards she declined to answer the reason behind her vote.

“It is typical that as the board president we don’t talk about our individual thoughts in these types of interviews because every quote that I have is to be representative of the board,” Lehnert said.

When asked how much the potential lawsuit might have played in the decision?

“I would not be able to speculate what was going on with each individual board member outside of what they shared.”

The other board members were not made available for interviews and Lehnert did not share her opinions on the potential lawsuit or her voting decision during the meeting.

But what we do know is in-person classes will go as planned on Monday with students not required to wear masks.

“The requirement to wear masks for staff and visitors remains in effect and strongly encouraged for students,” said SPS Chief Communications Officer Stephen Hall. “I would just reiterate to families that the choice is in your hands and encourage you to encourage your child to be masked in the learning environment so we can slow this spread and keep the doors to our schools open and maintain in-person learning which we know is preferred.”

As to what may change because mask requirements are no longer an option?

“I would say that virtual (learning) is definitely a possibility in the coming weeks,” Hall replied. “We were already facing a staffing shortage before this surge and it simply came upon us too quickly and impacted the system too broadly across all sections of our workforce. That culminated with 20 percent of our workforce being out on a single day and when you have that large a number it’s impossible to continue operations.”

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