School board to consider mask mandate

·3 min read

Sep. 18—Muskogee Board of Education is to consider adopting a mask mandate at its regular meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Education Service Center.

An agenda item for the meeting says the board will consider mandating masks "for all employees, students and visitors while they are on school district property or at school district activities."

Under the proposal, exceptions would be given to people with "documented medical conditions that do not allow them to wear a mask, for sincerely held religious beliefs or strong personally held beliefs."

Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall said the district has tracked COVID-19 data within the district and has seen a steady number of positive cases.

According to tabulations released on the district website Friday evening, the district reported 54 positive COVID cases in isolation out of a total staff/student population of 5,323. The cases include 46 reported student cases and eight cases among staff members.

"Since school started on August 24th, a number of factors have changed surrounding masks in schools," Mendenhall said. "A judge issued a temporary injunction regarding the state law that prohibited mask mandates for schools. We have also followed the COVID data within our district and have seen a steady number of positive cases. With those factors, we felt that it was the right thing to do to bring to the Board of Education the opportunity to have an open discussion regarding masks."

Reported student cases include 11 each at Muskogee High School and the 8th and 9th Grade Academy, six at the 6th and 7th Grade Academy, four at Creek Elementary, three each at Irving Elementary and Early Childhood Center, and two each at Cherokee, Tony Goetz Elementary and Rougher Innovations Academy. Sadler Arts Academy and Rougher Alternative Academy each reported one case.

Staff cases include three in such district services as transportation, Education Service Center, child nutrition or maintenance. Two cases were reported at Cherokee and one each were reported at MHS and Creek.

MPS Communications and Marketing Director Steve Braun said the tabulations are a seven-day running total of positive cases.

"Once the school is notified about a positive case, the school begins to contact trace, notifying only those parents whose child has been identified as a close contact to the positive case," Braun said. "Of course, confidentiality is upheld and no names are released. It is possible that not all classmates were exposed."

Braun said MPS Principals notify parents "through phone calls, email, and/or School Status the same day letting them know their child was exposed to a positive case."

"There are many instances when these contacts are made in the evening because the school was not notified about a positive case until after school hours," he said. "For the safety of other students we communicate with parents that they need to quarantine their child per the Oklahoma State Department of Health and CDC guidelines. Schools then follow up with the MPS Director of Health and Social Services for any additional guidance if needed."

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