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JCPS Board of Education votes in favor of universal mask mandate

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 8:49 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 28, 2021 at 1:01 AM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Vocal opposition was not enough to stop mandatory masks for Jefferson County Public Schools students.

JCPS Board of Education members voted unanimously to approve a recommendation from Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio to require everyone inside JCPS schools and buildings to wear a mask.

Pollio earlier told reporters the move was essential to prevent disruptions to in-class learning.

“If we value in person education, if we want to keep kids in school 175 school days,” Pollio said. “If we want to make sure we illuminate any disruption, then masking is greatly reducing that, and I think as a community it’s one step we have to take to make sure we stay in school.”

The Tuesday night Board of Education meeting at Central High School started with extra security. Bags were searched and everyone was screened for weapons.

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The focus of the meeting was on masks, as earlier Tuesday afternoon, the CDC issued new guidelines recommending all K-12 students and staff, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks in schools.

JCPS Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio said before the board meeting Tuesday he recommended a universal mask requirement across the district.

“It would be much easier for me not to make a recommendation and to just let the board decide,” Pollio said Tuesday morning at Zachary Taylor Elementary School, “but I think it’s the job of the superintendent, the leader of a district, to make a recommendation to the board of education about a way to move forward.”

Pollio reiterated the recent guidelines, stating the importance of keeping kids in school all 175 days of the upcoming school year.

“We must do everything to keep our students in school,” Pollio said in Tuesday’s board meeting during opening statements. “As we currently stand, nearly every public health organization is in line with what it would take to keep our students in school for the entire year.”

As Pollio presented studies on concerns of the Delta variant’s spread and why students should wear masks, members of the crowd began booing at the superintendent.

“You can hold up your signs, but you must not talk when the superintendent is talking,” JCPS Board Member Diane Porter said. “That is not what we are going to do in here. There will be order in this room. If you do not want order, you can take it outside.”

Public discussion went on for around an hour, giving each speaker three minutes in front of the board before the board meeting carried onward.

Opponents to mandatory masks for students claimed they were being robbed of their rights as parents.

“I want to respectfully ask you with all my heart,” Debbie Robbins, speaking against a mask requirement, said, “that you have got to let your pride go tonight and you’ve got to allow our children — us to take care of our children

“I represent students, parents, and those who are no longer going to except overreaching government, medical tyranny, school board and teacher union mandates,” mask opponent Diane Stevens said to the school board members

Several people also spoke in favor of a mask mandate.

“Thank you also Dr. Pollio and Board,” mask supporter Tiffany Calvert said, “for advocating a universal masking policy for the start of the school year.”

As cases of people infected with the Delta variant continue to grow in number, there is no prediction for how long the mask mandate will be in effect. Pollio said he will provide regular updates to board members with recommendations on any adjustments that need to be made.

The meeting also brought up a virtual school option for Kindergarten through 5th graders, in addition to the 6th through 12th grade program available at the Pathfinder School of Innovation online-only school. Students will enroll at the virtual option for one-year and will need to be renewed annually.

The Kentucky Department of Education would have to approve the virtual school option in a final vote.

For students attending in-person classes, JCPS provided a PPE plan that would have masks available and hand sanitizer accessible for students and staff.

JCPS also laid out a racial-equity protocol for its back-to-school plan, offering new practices and spending relating to racial equity. There would be expanded access to dual credit classes, as well as a requirement for all schools to have access to a nurse and mental health practitioner.

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