TOPEKA (KSNT) – As students and teachers gear up to return to the classroom, the largest school district in Topeka will be requiring masks inside its buildings.
The school board for Topeka Public Schools 501 District voted Thursday evening, in favor of the mandate in the midst of the rapidly spreading Delta variant causing cases to once again go up in Shawnee County.
The board’s decision comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise across the state. The board said it will re-evaluate the mandate based on the county’s COVID-positive cases.
Last week, the CDC recommended that indoor masks be worn indoors in parts of the country classified as having substantial or high transmission, citing a surge of infections from the delta variant. It included all teachers, staff, students, and visitors at schools nationwide regardless of vaccination status.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, a Topeka pediatrician agreed with the decision to enforce the mask mandate while two parents spoke in opposition to the mask mandate.
Parent Douglas Kopf said he was disappointed the board waited so long to issue their decision, citing it gives teachers less than a week to make modifications before the first day of school. Kopf ended his public comment stating his firm belief against mask mandates by reminding the board, “You work for us, not the CDC, and we demand no mask mandates.”
Sarah Weichert, another parent at Thursday’s meeting spoke to the board with a similar message asking them to “make masks a recommendation, not a requirement.”
Topeka pediatrician and parent of students who attend 501, Dr. Randall Schumacher, weighed in during the public comment portion of the meeting stating he’s in full support of the CDC’s guidance.
“My priority is to have my children in school,” Dr. Schumaker said, “It’s important to us all the tools available, including masks.”
Ultimately the board voted unanimously to require all students pre-K through 12th grade to wear masks while indoors at district buildings, however, they will be allowed to take their masks off outdoors. It applies to students and staff regardless of their vaccination status.
The board also noted there will be options for students and parents to choose between in-person classes with masks or virtual schooling from home.