Masks will become optional later this week in Sedalia School District 200 schools after a Board of Education vote during Monday’s special meeting hosted in the Heckart Performing Arts Center at Smith-Cotton High School.
The board voted to revise its resolution originally passed in August, making face masks optional. The revision takes effect on Wednesday, May 12. This follows a unanimous vote from the Pettis County Health Center Board of Trustees last week to end the face covering rule at 12:01 a.m. May 12.
Superintendent Steve Triplett recalled how the board hosted multiple meetings last summer and sent out surveys to staff and district families on how to re-open schools. According to Triplett, almost 70% of the community wanted school to be in-person.
At the time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the federal government generally weren’t recommending in-person learning. While working with other Pettis County superintendents and the Pettis County Health Center to determine how to make in-person learning happen in Pettis County, Triplett explained they thought using masks could help with quarantine and contact tracing guidelines.
“I’m happy to say that we did that and I think we’ve had a very successful school year,” Triplett said. “... As we go forward now, I look back at how we made those decisions then.”
A new survey was recently sent out to staff, high school students and district families. Triplett reported the following results: 26.1% of parents voted to keep the mask rule until the end of the school year while 73.9% voted to make masks optional; 35.6% of staff members voted to keep the rule and 64.4% voted to make masks optional; 35.7% of students voted to keep the rule and 64.3% voted to make masks optional.
Triplett cited the district currently has two staff members and zero students who have tested positive for COVID.
Triplett recommended the board make masks optional for staff and students. After his speech, many audience members clapped in support. He said it is consistent with the district’s decision-making regarding COVID-19, which is considering survey results, listening to the community, staff and students, and following the Health Center’s recent vote.
Board President Diana Nichols explained the two areas she relied on most for the decision to start school with masks were district surveys and health care experts’ advice.
“I am in agreement with Mr. Triplett,” Nichols said. “Because it also is consistent… of how I made my decision last summer.”
Board member Michael Stees spoke against the change, addressing how the Pettis County Health Center had originally suggested keeping the mask mandate until school is dismissed for the summer. Stees also cited CDC guidelines for schools, guidance from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the Missouri State Teachers Association supporting the recommendation. Several audience members were vocal against Stees’ comments.
The board passed a motion to make masks optional starting May 12; Stees voted no. Audience members clapped after the resolution was reached. Some audience members laughed in disapproval of Stees’ vote.
The resolution was the only item on the board’s agenda.
Michelle Quattlebaum, who ran for the school board during the April municipal election, asked the board about the district’s quarantine guidelines for kids who test positive for COVID. Quoting the Pettis County Health Center’s new quarantining guidelines for non-household contacts, Triplett explained people who are not wearing masks are not required to quarantine if someone around them tests positive, but individuals not wearing masks will have to. Many audience members vocally disapproved of the rule and questioned its legality.
Responding, board member Matthew Herren said he understood the audience members, praising them for having their voice be heard. Herren encouraged the audience to be “respectful, even if we don’t like what somebody is saying... It's so important.” As school board members, “they don’t always agree with each other,” according to Herren.
Before the agenda was approved, Herren spoke against not allowing audience members to make comments. Board President Diana Nichols replied that it was a special meeting not a regular meeting and they did not have to allow it. All board members approved the agenda except for Herren.
After Herren was finished speaking again on the subject, many audience members clapped in support. From there, one audience member yelled at the board to “be fair” and that the board should “keep in mind… we put you in there, we can take you out.”
Later on, when Herren attempted to speak further on the policy of not letting audience members speak, one audience member yelled for Herren to “just be quiet.” Continuing, the audience member said toward Herren, “Quit grandstanding and just shut up.” Herren took offense and identified the individual as a school administrator; Herren confronted him after the meeting. Then, Nichols moved to adjourn the special meeting. All board members approved.