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Papillion La Vista Community Schools makes masks optional for high schools

Middle and elementary schools could follow suit
Posted at 6:34 PM, Oct 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-26 10:21:46-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Under a new plan, masks could be optional for all students and staff at Papillion La Vista Community Schools by early January. High schools are the first to test out the “masks recommended” approach starting Wednesday.

This is part of the district’s plan to slowly get classrooms of all levels back to normal, while keeping the spread of COVID-19 low.

"We really wanted to start at the high school level,” said Annette Eyman, director of communications. “We know our highest vaccination rates are there in that age group,and focus on those two schools."

According to Eyman, 14-18 years olds make up nearly 75% of the young people vaccinated in Sarpy County.

Cases will be closely monitored and reported for the next few weeks as high schools try out the new “mask recommended” status.

“At the end of each school day, at the high schools, we would communicate with parents on exactly how many cases they had in their building on that day,” Eyman said. “So it would be, ‘one ninth-grade student, or ninth-grade student and an eleventh-grade student tested positive today for COVID.’”

If absences related to sickness reach 7% or higher on a three-day average, masks will be required once again for 14 days. For Papillion La Vista South that’s 134, and for Papillion La Vista High School that’s 125 students.

After monitoring the high schools, the board will evaluate the data and decide if middle schools should be considered next for the optional mask plan.

Papillon La Vista’s tentative plan for moving to mask recommended:

  • Oct. 27 Masks recommended for high schools
  • Nov. 8 Review data, move to next step if favorable
  • Nov.10 Masks recommended for middle schools
  • Dec.13 Review data, move to next step if favorable
  • Jan. 5 Masks recommended for elementary school

So why not middle or elementary schools right away?

The district says they want to start slow, and find a plan that works to avoid going back and forth on mask requirements.

“Masks are on, masks are off, masks are on, masks are off - we don’t think that’s healthy for anyone,” said Superintendent Dr. Andrew Rikli.

They also say elementary schools are seeing the highest cases, with around 14 of the current 22 students cases being at the elementary level.

“At the beginning of the year, we also saw faster spread at our elementary schools,” Eyman said. “If you think about just the pure nature of an elementary school, you’re with those same kids - same 20 to 22 kids - all day long.”

Their tentative plan would likely have elementary schools going to masks recommended status after vaccines are available for younger children.

It’s been almost two months since the board decided to put in a mask requirement at all schools in the district which came after it saw a significant spike in cases during week three of the school year.

According to the Sarpy/Cass Health Department, more than 25% of new COVID cases are in people under 20.


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