By Allen Edmonds
Two emotionally tense but restrained school board meetings this week yielded similar results, with neither school boards from the Belton or Raymore-Peculiar districts opting to impose mask mandates for the start of school later this month.
Ray-Pec’s board voted to include phrasing that the district “strongly encourages” indoor mask-wearing in the face of surging COVID-19 case rates as a result of the Delta variant, but Belton’s board voted to simply make mask-wearing optional for the first 30 days of the school year.
The board will review the data at the end of that time and reconsider its decision, members agreed.
For some, it was far from an easy call, while for others, it was.
Longtime Belton board member Jim Armilio, who abstained from voting in the end, called it “the hardest issue we’ve had to deal with since sex education,” during Belton’s Thursday night meeting.
Armilio had initially seconded board member Norman Larkey’s motion to require masks until Oct. 14, when the board would review its decision in light of new statistics.
With that motion on the table, members Theresa Cervantes and Karen Fletcher argued against a mask requirement, which Cervantes saying, “I just want everyone to know that what I am expressing is what has been communicated to me by my constituents.”
Board President Jerry Miller said, “we all are. I don’t want anybody to think we’re not acting with our constituents in mind.”
Fletcher said the feedback she had received had been “about equal,” and the points made on both sides of the argument had been excellent.
“But in the past year, the county has never had any mask mandate, and frankly, our numbers just aren’t any different than they were last year.”
“But,” responded Larkey, “there is a difference, because no one was vaccinated last year. So this year’s numbers are a lot worse with that in mind.”
After further discussion, Armilio removed his second to Larkey’s original motion. Miller opened the floor for another second to keep the motion alive, but none was advanced, meaning his motion died for lack of a second.
The replacement motion to make masks optional for the first 30 days of the school year passed 4-2 with Armilo abstaining.
Ray-Pec’s decision was made Tuesday night, with the board electing to include the “strongly recommend” phrasing.