Citing a steady decline in COVID-19 cases and quarantines in its schools since implementing universal masking, Bowling Green Independent School District Superintendent Gary Fields asked the district’s school board to continue the requirement, a recommendation the body unanimously approved Monday.
“I think, right now, this is the best decision for our school district because the ultimate goal is to keep kids in school,” Fields told reporters after the meeting, which was attended by only a handful of masking supporters.
Dr. Mark Lowry, a local pediatrician with nearly 30 years of experience treating children, was among three individuals who spoke during the board meeting’s public comment period. All three supported continuing the masking requirement.
Lowry took the opportunity to debunk several myths about masking.
“As someone who has studied and practiced medicine for almost 30 years, there are just a couple of things that I can say unequivocally and without hesitation: Masks do not cause you to have decreased oxygen. Masks do not cause you to inhale too much carbon dioxide. Masks don’t trap pathogens next to your face. They work to prevent transmission of this disease and others both as the wearer and as the person who might have it, exhaling it out onto your neighbors,” Lowry said.
“I can think of no reason why we shouldn’t have children masking in school” when they are in such close proximity to one another for extended periods of time, Lowry said.
Another local pediatrician, Dr. Elizabeth Sternberg, echoed that sentiment.
Drawing on her experience treating sick children throughout the pandemic, Sternberg said “there is no way a school could stay open long-term without masking.”
The Bowling Green school board took up the masking question after last week’s special legislative session in Frankfort, during which lawmakers placed the decision into the hands of local school boards.
Under Senate Bill 1, which lawmakers passed Thursday, a school masking mandate backed up by an emergency regulation from the Kentucky Department of Education will be rendered unenforceable by Wednesday. School districts are required to submit their operation plans to the KDE – for informational purposes only – and make that plan publicly available on their websites.
Defending the decision on universal masking, Fields told reporters after the meeting Monday that the district has seen its COVID-19 positives and quarantines decline since implementing a mask mandate.
Fields also noted that the requirement will be up for board review on a monthly basis. His recommendations to the board on that issue will be subject to how well the district is doing with cases and quarantines, he said.
“Our plan to revisit will be monthly,” he said. “I think it’s very reasonable that I should present what the data looks like.
“Hopefully, over the last 18 months, we’ve earned the trust of our parents and our community,” Fields said. “You know, we’re just trying to make decisions that keep kids in school. It’s not about anything other than that.”
Fields said the school district was caught off guard by how rapidly the delta variant of the coronavirus can spread, explaining the district’s decision to initially start the school year mask-optional.
“We’re not going to let down our guard. I think we all learned a hard lesson this summer. At least, this superintendent right here did. … I think we all kind of thought we were through the worst of this.”
Board members also took up a new property tax rate, opting to set the new rate at 84.2 cents per $100 of real property and 84.5 cents per $100 of personal property.
The motor vehicle tax rate will remain the same as last year: 60.2 cents per $100 of property value.
– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @NewsByAaron or visit bgdailynews.com.