By Jessie Wagoner
McPHERSON—The mask debate continues to grow in McPherson, as evidenced by the crowd gathered for the McPherson School Board meeting Monday evening.
Prior to the meeting, a group of approximately 60 people gathered outside of the district office to protest mask-wearing. Many of those also attended the public meeting, where they were asked to wear masks, as social distancing could not be maintained.
Eight individuals signed up to speak during public comment. The first, an eighth-grade student, expressed that she had been granted an exemption due to masks causing her to have panic attacks. Now she sits in the back of her classroom away from other students but still not six feet apart. She asked that masks be optional for all students.
Another gentleman asked that all laws or regulations at or around the schools be loosened. He expressed a desire to raise the speed limit from 20 mph around schools so children could develop their hand and eye coordination by dodging speeding vehicles. He concluded by saying, “my car, my choice,” at which time members of the crowd agreed by yelling, “my body, my choice.”
Another public speaker expressed concerns about how masks are impacting the development of language skills among children. The speaker believes the district is causing long-term damage to students. The same speaker expressed that COVID-19 is not really negatively affecting the McPherson community, so they shouldn’t have a mask mandate. When the speaker concluded, Board Member Dr. Kim Janzen responded.
“I work in the ER. I’m an emergency room physician,” Janzen said. “My last night shift last week, when I walked in, we were admitting one patient with COVID; earlier in the day, we had transferred one patient to Kansas City because there were no beds in Wichita, no beds in Salina, no beds in Hutch, and this patient had a problem we couldn’t take care of in McPherson.”
Superintendent Shiloh Vincent provided the board with a COVID flow chart. The flow chart outlined how positive COVID cases will be handled in the district. He also advised that there are students in the district with medical and religious exemptions to the mask policy. He said, in those cases, students without masks are encouraged to maintain six feet of distance. Board members asked if there was a record of how many students have mask exemptions.
“I reported over the weekend we were between three and four percent of our student population,” Vincent said. “About 115 students across our whole district.”
Some of those students have medical exemptions, while others have religious exemptions. Gene Wilson, who is a candidate for the USD-418 Board of Education, has publicly stated he received an ordination certificate online several years ago to perform a wedding and is now using the certificate to provide families with religious exemption forms to avoid wearing a mask.
After much discussion, Dale Patrick made a motion to rescind the mask mandate. The motion was seconded by Brad Berg. The board voted 5-2 to continue the mask policy. Those who voted to continue the mask policy were Emily Greer, Ann Elliott, Kim Janzen, Bryan Kynaston and Jeff Johnson. Patrick and Berg were the only two in favor of rescinding the policy.