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Kearney Public Schools temporarily suspends mask mandate

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Published: Sep. 6, 2021 at 4:55 PM CDT
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KEARNEY, Neb. (KSNB) -Kearney Public Schools has temporarily suspended a masking mandate for PK-12 students and staff, which was originally scheduled to begin Sept. 7.

According to officials, they wanted to allow for a discussion and dialogue on the upcoming mandate, and will do so at their regularly scheduled board meeting on Monday, Sept. 13, in the Kearney High School Concert Hall and Theatre. Individuals who are interested in providing public comment will be required to sign-up with the Superintendent’s office through Superintendent Secretary, Dianne Lamb, no later than 4:00 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 10.

Board President Kathy Gifford and Superintendent Kent Edwards sent a statement to students and staff on Monday:

Since our announcement Wednesday of the PK-12 masking mandate, the Kearney Public Schools Board of Education and Dr. Edwards have been in constant communication with many parents and stakeholders.  Many people have expressed both strong opposition and thankful appreciation and support for this mandate to be implemented.  Making the correct decision is challenging in these polarized and contentious times and all of us want the same thing--a healthy, safe, and positive educational environment for our students and staff.

The Board of Education has been in regular contact with Dr. Edwards and Dr. Edwards has been in regular communication with our local health officials, doctors, and hospital administrators.  The data has clearly shown more cases of reported positive COVID cases to support a masking mandate, however, we also understand there have not been hospitalizations of children under 18 and there are currently no other masking mandates in Kearney.  The Board has supported all decisions made by the administration on a consensus basis and Dr. Edwards is not operating independently of school board support.  But with all of that said, this issue remains divisive for our community and the choice is not a quick or easy one.

Kearney Public Schools has always been a place where we unify the community. Dr. Edwards and the Board have prided themselves on listening to all viewpoints on difficult issues and using that input to make the best decision for the students, staff, and patrons we serve.  In traditional form, we have made every effort to listen to all sides on this issue, including medical experts when making decisions with the pandemic. But in the course of the past few days, many people have indicated we need to hear additional input before making our final decision. So at this time, by board consensus and in consultation with Dr. Edwards, we will temporarily suspend the masking mandate for PK-12 students and staff originally scheduled to begin Tuesday, September 7, 2021.

The Board of Education will instead hold their regularly scheduled board meeting on Monday, September 13, 2021 in the Kearney High School Concert Hall and Theatre.  We will conduct our regular board meeting business and then we will move into a discussion and possible action on the masking mandate.  We intend to invite our local health officials, doctors, and medical experts to give their update on the current medical situation in Kearney and their opinion on the value of masking for students and staff in the schools.  Once our medical officials have provided comment, we will take public comment on masking before moving forward with a board discussion regarding this topic and potential action.  Even though the board is choosing to make this  temporary suspension of the plan, we encourage all students and staff to practice all mitigating procedures that were previously in place, as we come back together for in person learning after a long holiday weekend.

Patrons who are interested in providing public comment will be required to sign-up with the Superintendent’s office through Superintendent Secretary, Dianne Lamb, no later than 4:00 p.m. on Friday, September 10, 2021.  Interested speakers will be required to provide their name and address when signing up.  Based on the number of speakers who sign up, the Board President will outline the amount of time provided for each speaker at the board meeting that evening.  We expect this to be a civil discourse and anyone who is willfully disrespectful to other speakers, the administration, or the Board of Education will be removed from Kearney High School.

The Board of Education and Kearney Public Schools administrative team realize this is a passionate issue.  It is our desire to make the best decision possible given all factors.  When the decision is made, we ask both sides to continue to support us in this unprecedented and difficult time.

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