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Ahead of a school board vote, Whitney Carlile asks the Smithville School Board to not make masks mandatory Aug 12. After hearing from the public, the board voted 5-2 to adopt an indoor universal masking policy for school district facilities for the start of the coming school year.

SMITHVILLE — The Smithville Board of Education voted 5-2 on Aug. 12 to adopt an indoor universal masking policy for school district facilities for the start of the coming school year. The policy went into effect Monday, Aug. 16.

Board members Len Matthies and Scott Haggerty voted against mask requirements while the remaining five board members — President Denney Fales, Vice President Sarah Lamer, Ian Saxton, Jeff Bloemker and Susan Whitacre — voted in favor.

“I would like to review the COVID numbers in September,” Bloemker said, to determine if masks will continue to be required.

Lamer said she wants to look at case counts again in October, after a school quarter is completed, to see if the situation continues to warrant mask wearing.

Fourteen people from the community spoke during the public comment portion of the Aug. 12 meeting. Those who spoke were divided between wanting masking required for safety and a family’s right to choose.

Dr. Micheal Crim, who has three children in the district, compared masks and vaccines to wearing seat belts for safety, adding the Centers for Disease Control recommend masking.

“I would hate to see little Jenny become infected when it could be prevented,” he said.

Whitney Carlile, opposed to masks in schools, said data released during summer school showing how COVID-19 cases spiked was not accurate.

“When my daughter gets in the car ... (she) rips her mask off, saying she can finally breathe,” she said.

Brooke Perkins said masks cannot be compared to seat belts.

“Seat belts have been around for much longer,” she said. “Masks don’t make a difference against COVID. It should be a choice.”

Former school board member Sandy Van Wagner spoke in favor of masks. She said while masks are not convenient, they do protect kids, teachers and staff so that schools can be open. Alderman and district parent John Chevalier said he supports masks as a means to protect children who can’t get vaccinations yet.

“I have two kids at Maple Elementary,” said Alexis Small. “Schools are to offer a safe and equitable learning environment. That is the job of a public school. I want to have the least disruptive school year. It’s not about freedom of choice, but a safe environment. My daughter has asthma. Will she be safe in school? If we don’t mask, kids will be back in quarantine.”

Todd Schuetz, superintendent, said COVID-19 has consumed a lot of district leadership time. Safety protocols like masks, district leaders said, may mean fewer quarantines and days spent out of school.

“We aren’t medical experts, but we are trying to do the best job we can for the kids,” he said. “We want our students to be with us, under our roof every day so that we have the best opportunity to have a personal relationship with them, to be an adult role model for each and every kid. That’s what I signed up for, to have the opportunity to make a difference in the life of a kid. That is hard to do through a computer screen.”

Southeast Editor Kellie Houx can be reached at kellie.houx@mycouriertribune.com or 389-6630.

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