Several North Platte Public School patrons spoke their minds during the public comment section of Monday’s regular Board of Education meeting.
Most spoke against the Return to School Plan that has seen three elementary schools move into the school-wide face-covering mandate. McDonald, Washington and Cody Elementary schools are under the requirement through Sept. 20. Jefferson, Lincoln and Eisenhower have been taken off the mandate and do not have mask requirements at this time.
The plan indicates that a 5% to 10% threshold of exposure and positivity rates among students and staff will be used to determine what safety measures will be implemented.
Mitch Wagner, organizer of the recent protest staged outside McKinley, spoke first and said the ESSERS money is tied to compliance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This is at the expense of our kids and it’s not keeping them safe,” Wagner said. “The CDC’s own studies don’t back up what they’re saying.”
Brenda Fourtner, who was wearing a mask due to the requirement by the district for the meeting, said her temperature rose and her heart rate went up in the short time she was sitting in the meeting, and asked people to “imagine what this does to our children” if she had that reaction as an adult.
“You should be ashamed of yourselves,” Fourtner said about the district’s mask policy. “(The masks) protect nothing. I touch my face more with my mask on than with it off.”
Others echoed her sentiments and pointed out the members of the board, although wearing masks, pulled them down to take a drink of water and touched their faces.
However, not everyone spoke against the mask mandate.
Liz Odle and Tara Foster, North Platte Public School District teachers, along with three other teachers who did not speak, stated their approval of the district’s policies. The five are members of the Executive Team for the North Platte Education Association, but indicated they were not speaking for the association, but as individuals.
“We are in the classroom every single day,” Odle said. “(We) want to personally acknowledge the tough decisions that your board, along with the administration of North Platte Public Schools, have had to make the last year and a half.”
Odle said they recognize there are varying aspects and points of view that go along with the pandemic.
“Tough decisions based on the safety of students and staff have obviously been a priority put forth by this board,” Odle said.
Decisions are being made by school boards across the country, Foster said, to keep students and staff safe.
“We would like to thank you for your efforts in keeping us safe as a top priority,” Foster said, “and to know your efforts do not go unnoticed.”
Foster said the five teachers believe the board is doing its “absolute best” to accomplish the goal.
Although Anna Junker thanked the board for their work and being in a thankless position, she said she does not believe the board fully represents its patrons.
“You were elected by the people in this room,” Junker said. “We were told to reach out to you and I reached out to Mr. (Skip) Altig and received no response.”
A nurse, Junker said she does not believe the masks work and has seen an influx of children with COVID-19 symptoms.
“I believe the masks have weakened their immune systems,” Junker said.
Jennifer Thomas said she appreciated the opportunity to speak and felt it important to stand up for what she believes.
“I believe the decision (to wear masks) should be left up to parents,” Thomas said. “Please consider amending the policy.”
Ruth Orr said she has three children at NPPS and pulled one child in preschool out of Osgood.
“Students cannot learn when the teacher has a mask on,” Orr said, especially since preschool children who need to see the face when the teacher is forming words.
Devon Gibbons said he was speaking out for his children’s freedom.
“(This mandate) is going against Nebraska laws,” Gibbons said. “How can we attend a football game with over 90,000 people and have to wear masks (in a classroom.)”
Gibbons, along with a couple of others, indicated the boxes containing masks state the masks “don’t work” for preventing diseases.
Some of the patrons asked questions of the board, but were told the public comment period was not for dialogue, but only to give the opportunity for the public to speak.