By Allen Edmonds
The area’s two largest school districts are now both officially mask-optional, but only by the slimmest of margins on the east side.
Raymore-Peculiar’s school board, which voted on Aug. 20 to enforce a mask mandate in its buildings after hearing the case made by Superintendent Mike Slagle, took essentially the same vote on Thursday night. But due to the passage by the Missouri Legislature of House Bill 151, mask mandates by a public body when a public health emergency is not in place, must be approved by a “supermajority” of that body – which means five members of the Board had to vote in favor of continuing the mandate.
Board members Billy King and Bill Lowe were absent, meaning all five remaining members had to vote in favor. Four voted in favor, but Paul Coffman voted no, meaning the motion failed, after hearing from a series of mainly anti-mask patrons.
Members did not seem immediately aware that the 4-1 vote meant the failure of the motion until Slagle explained the impact of the state law in light of Gov. Mike Parson’s recent lifting of the state of emergency.
Meanwhile in Belton at essentially the same time, the board again heard from a series of patrons, most of whom urged the board to establish a mandate.
Superintendent Andrew Underwood chose not to take a position on a potential mandate, telling Board members “there are compelling arguments on both sides.”
Ultimately, the Belton Board voted unanimously to agree to an emergency meeting and vote if the percentage of students quarantined reaches 8 percent. Currently, Underwood said, there are 192 students in quarantine, which is around 4 percent. The board also agreed to convene if total attendance drops to 75 percent.
Underwood told the board some students don’t attend “if the parents are hearing the numbers are getting too high, and they get worried to send their kids.”
At Ray-Pec, prior to the vote, Coffman spoke to the board and audience members about the difficulty of the decision.
“I don’t want to be motivated by the fear of ‘what if.’ I think we agree that COVID is real, and it is a threat. But we don’t want to overreact and tell people to stay home when there isn’t really a realistic threat.”
At the same time, he said, it was important for everyone to realize that whatever decision was made, it was being made with the best interests of the children at heart, and he said “I think we can agree that being in school is what is in the best interests of the kids.”
He also said he was disappointed in the rancor and division that had become obvious during recent weeks.
“We’re being divided by this thing, and I can tell you that when you’re part of the same team, that’s the worst thing that can happen.”
The former Green Bay Packer and Kansas City Chief tight end said, “I’ve been involved on teams pretty much all of my life. And I can tell you, when we start fighting among ourselves, that’s when we lose. So before you start writing emails, just ask yourself, is this going to help the situation? We do this because we love our community and we love our kids.”