Parents, students protest USD-418 mask mandate

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By Anne Hassler Heidel

McPherson News Ledger

McPHERSON—A group of 50 adults and students gathered Tuesday morning at First and Main Streets to voice their opposition to the recent mask mandate approved by the USD-418 Board of Education.

They call themselves the “Fresh Start, Fresh Air” group, and they want to be able to choose whether their children wear a mask while at school.

Brooke Kanitz, a member of the group and candidate for USD-418 School Board, said parents should be allowed to decide what is best for their families.

“This group organically grew as parents became frustrated with the last school year and with the recent BOE decision to create a mask mandate,” Kanitz said.

The mask mandate has created tense situations on both sides of the issue, leaving administrators and school staff in a difficult position.

Some members of Fresh Start, Fresh Air have sought out medical and religious waivers for their children so they will not have to wear masks. Others have transferred their students out of the district entirely.

A preference for personal choice and a surging level of COVID-19 infections have created tough situations for those tasked with setting guidelines, recommendations and mandates.

This divisive and sometime hostile situation, particularly on social media, is mirrored across the country as cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant begin to surge. McPherson County currently has 52 active COVID-19 cases, 19 from COVID variants, an increase from just seven active cases in early July. 

Chief Medical Officer for the McPherson Center for Health Sheila Gorman said during a question-and-answer session at the Aug. 9 board of education meeting that Delta is far more contagious than the original COVID strain. 

“It spreads more than twice as readily between individuals. I have not seen any statistics on just kids singled out. My understanding is that kids transmit, that they would be expected to have the same transmission rate,” Gorman said. 

Current recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control are to wear masks indoors when not able to maintain a six-foot distance. McPherson County is considered to be at a high community transmission level by the CDC.

Members of the Fresh Start, Fresh Air group said they were encouraged by the honks and waves they received from drivers during their protest. While there are no current plans for future protests, Kanitz said the group will continue to be diligent in standing up against the mandate.

“We plan to continue to stand up for all children’s choices. And also for the teachers and staff who we’d love to be able to teach and not have to be the mask police,” Kanitz said.