OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — On Monday, Westside Community Schools announced that younger children, pre-K to 6th grade, will be required to wear masks when they start school in the fall. Children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
The district will make masks optional for students in middle and high school, the age group currently old enough to receive the vaccine.
The mask mandate will also extend to staff and those visiting.
UPDATE on pandemic plan for WESTSIDE SCHOOL DISTRICT:
Masks will be REQUIRED for those in pre k- 6th grade (those who are not eligible for the vaccine due to age).
Masks will be OPTIONAL for those in middle and high school (those who are eligible for vaccine).
— Alyssa Curtis (@AlyssaNCurtis) August 2, 2021
Superintendent Mike Lucas says the decision was not an easy one but was made based on vaccine eligibility.
"The one thing we want to hang our hat on administratively is the importance of family choice and that's something we’ve heard loud and clear. We want to be able to support families making choices as much as we can right now. With the vaccination, which is a big family choice, families need to decide if they’re for the vaccination or not. That vaccination choice has been made available for our middle and high school students," Lucas says.
Lucas says the plan will be in effect from August 17th through September 17th. The district will take it month by month and monitor COVID trends as well as vaccine eligibility.
Lucas says he wishes they didn't have to wear masks but that's the decision that was best for their students, especially since they are not planning on offering remote learning options. Lucas says kids learn best when they're in the classroom and masks will help keep that a reality.
"We know having in-person instruction is the best thing we can do. We are not planning to offer an extended campus at home learning model this year. We feel like masks at elementary, because they're not yet eligible for vaccination, is the best chance we have to maintain in-person instruction, which we learned the hard way is the best model for children," Lucas said.
Before Lucas announced the plan, parents were able to make comments on agenda items. Some parents expressed their support for universal masking at schools while others opposed it.
At Monday night's meeting, the district also announced all students will be receiving free breakfast and lunch for the 2021-22 school year, a program funded by the Department of Agriculture. Those who are eligible for free or reduced lunch should still submit the application as there are other benefits.
The board also approved Lucas' goals and priorities for the 2021-22 school year which include increasing the percentage of students who are performing above average, working towards an enrollment goal, and transitioning to iPads for all students.