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New Wichita school board members mask up but want district to reconsider COVID protocols

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Suzanne Perez
Wichita school board member Kathy Bond, left, greets Superintendent Alicia Thompson before a board meeting Tuesday. Bond and two other board members who derailed a meeting last week by not wearing face masks complied with the district's mandate at the rescheduled meeting.

A Wichita school board meeting went on as scheduled on Tuesday after new board members agreed to wear face masks as required by district policy.

WICHITA, Kansas — Three Wichita school board members who refused to wear face masks at a meeting last week wore masks to a rescheduled meeting Tuesday but said they want the district to reconsider its mask mandate and other COVID-19 protocols.

Diane Albert, one of three conservative board members elected in November, said she wore a mask Tuesday because she was told she would not be allowed to participate otherwise.

She said her stance isn’t political, but that wearing a mask causes her health problems.

“I have a headache. I have a hard time breathing with it on. I have difficulty concentrating,” Albert said after the meeting.

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Diane Albert, Wichita Board of Education

“For some of us, it has an adverse reaction to our health. And we’re here to talk about health and safety, so how come my health and safety is not being taken into consideration by being forced to wear a mask when I’m 20 feet from the person next to me?”

Albert requested that the board review its COVID-19 protocols, including the mask mandate, at its next meeting in February.

Two other new board members, Kathy Bond and Hazel Stabler, asked whether schools have biohazard disposal receptacles for used masks. Bond suggested that students be required to throw their masks away before lunch and get new ones after lunch.

Stan Reeser, who was re-elected as board president Tuesday, said he’s willing to review the district’s COVID policies, but a recent surge in cases makes masks necessary.

Three Wichita elementary schools were closed Tuesday because of COVID-related staffing shortages. More than 300 staff members and more than 1,100 Wichita students tested positive for COVID last week, and nearly one in 10 students was in quarantine as of Friday.

“We may have to end up having a special meeting to discuss what COVID is doing to our schools even before February,” Reeser said. “So stay close to your phone.”

Board member Ernestine Krehbiel attended Tuesday’s meeting by teleconference because she had tested positive for COVID, she said.

Several members of the public criticized the new board members for not following the district’s mask mandate last week.

Susan Osborn, a retired professor, said she was “appalled” by the new board members’ actions and inspired to speak out in favor of the mandate.

“If you disagree with the current policy, why not work to change it rather than demonstrate that you are above the law and not concerned about spreading the virus to others?” Osborn said.

Two Wichita students voiced support for the mask policy, including 15-year-old Pandora Freeman, a freshman at Wichita East High School.

“I am simply telling you that your actions are hypocritical. You can’t expect students to follow rules if you constantly break them,” she said. “If you want change, use the rules to make change. You are not above them.”

Suzanne Perez reports on education for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.