Duncan Public Schools Board of Education hosted a special meeting this past Monday in regards to masks which had seven community members speak their feelings about a potential mandate for the district.
Board of Education President Eric Davis, before bringing the agenda item up, read the rules for the public participation and discussion rules which have been in place for a couple of years. This limited each speaker to three minutes apiece.
The first parent to speak, Misti Gilley, told the district leaders she didn’t want them to implement a mask mandate because she doesn’t believe the masks are effective. Gilley stated to community members in the room that each one needed to look inside of themselves as parents to realize that masks are not good for children.
Deborah Campbell spoke next and expressed concerns about not mandating masks for the school community.
Campbell said masks will infringe on individual liberties and on Oklahomans’ parental rights, and will also create hostile learning environment. Campbell also said she felt opt-out forms wouldn’t work and would further create the hostile learning environment for children who do opt out.
Next, Hayley Root spoke about the survey that Duncan Superintendent Dr. Tom Deighan put out to constituents of the district.
Root stated she felt the survey was “a little confusing” and expressed she was on both sides of the fence when it came to the mask mandate.
While she stated she was no scientist and respected the medical community, Root feels that masks have affected her children.
Root, who noted she has healthy children, said she knows the board will make the best decision based on the community but feels like it should be a personal choice on mask wearing.
Duncan High School English Teacher Kim Ellis then spoke about her students and commended how parents and students are making sure to not show up to school sick.
Ellis said parents are doing their “job” and numbers are going down in regards to COVID-19. With that, Ellis feels that non-verbal communication is huge for teachers.
She said the students love to see their teachers’ faces and proposed it to be handled as a building by building issue.
JT Whatley, next to speak, said when he works with kids he has noticed the difference in cadence of the kids they are wearing a mask.
Whatley said when you try and talk with students you lose that personal contact and for that reason, he is against the mask mandate of any kind.
Doug Channel then took to the floor and followed up on an email he previously sent and wanted to reiterate.
Channel told the board he felt there was a difference in masks last year versus masks this year. He said since there hasn’t been many quarantines, the mandate is not necessary, arguing the percentage of students contracting the virus is low and that masks could be a “breeding ground for other viruses.”
The last to speak, Kelsey Roberts, an admin at a neighboring district, stated as a former teacher that a mask mandate is needed and that she is an advocate for her child.
Roberts wanted to advocate for her fellow teachers as well and knows there were a lot of teachers absent to begin this year. She said she sends her son with a mask as she felt it was her responsibility.
She said that while kids are not getting as sick, teachers need to be better protected and that the mask mandate would be for them.
While stating that substitute teachers are great, Roberts knows there is pressure from all areas and feels it is best for the community to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Davis then thanked the members who talked to the board. He put the item up for discussion with the board and Deighan provided information about the potential mandate, how opt-out forms would work and the results of the survey he sent out to parents.
Deighan said there were 531 responses as of the meeting and there was a small majority for no mask mandate.
Board member Greg Neal said one location — Horace Mann Elementary — was close to getting shut down to start the year.
Neal said parents should know if sites get shut down, it could bring about the possibility of needing to make up time. Neal said if that becomes the case, the board will then be pushed into making decisions about updates that parents won’t like.
Board members decided to take no action. Davis and member Christopher Schreckengost thanked everyone for coming to discuss the mandate.
Schreckengost stated the reason it was on the school board agenda was to allow for discussion, however he said they can’t tell the future and this may not be the end of the discussion.
Davis then added that it was the board’s responsibility to look out for the health of students, faculty and staff and it would be tragic if a member of their school community is lost due to COVID-19.
After the meeting, Deighan said it is important to note that the district will continue to monitor the situation.
“Out of concern about rising COVID cases in our community, the DPS Board of Education discussed the possibility of a mask policy but did not take action,” Deighan said. “I applaud our Board for engaging the community on this very difficult topic. I also wish to thank community members for their respectfulness and tolerance for differences of opinion during public comments. The DPS Board and community has once again modeled how to engage at the local level to address even the most difficult of issues. DPS will continue to monitor COVID conditions and to consider options that fit our unique local needs.”
After taking no action, the board moved on to other action items. A story about those actions will appear in the weekend edition of The Duncan Banner.