Just like the Bowling Green school district, Warren County Public Schools will not require masks, regardless of vaccination status, when students return next month.
“Based upon current conditions, Warren County Public Schools will not require students nor staff to wear face coverings when returning for the 2021-22 school year, though all students and staff have the option to wear face coverings should they choose to do so,” WCPS Superintendent Rob Clayton wrote in a districtwide message Friday.
“Though masks are not required, WCPS does encourage those that have not been vaccinated and children younger than 12 years of age to wear masks. Pursuant to (the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) mandate, WCPS will require all students and staff (even if vaccinated) to wear masks when riding buses; this includes transportation to and from school, field trips, athletic events, etc,” Clayton wrote.
During a county school board meeting Monday at Greenwood High School, board Chairman Kerry Young reiterated that decision, stating it would be impossible to enforce because principals and teachers aren’t allowed to ask students if they’re vaccinated. The vaccine also isn’t available to children younger than 12, he said.
“We’ll try to maintain the 3 feet of distancing,” Young said, referencing CDC guidance. “There is one place that this board doesn’t have the say in. … It is mandated that you must wear a mask while on a school bus because a school bus is considered public transportation. So if a child or an adult is on a school bus traveling from home to school, on a field trip, on an athletic event, until that is changed, that is not a recommendation. That is a mandate, so Warren County schools will follow the law.”
Clayton added during his own comments at the board meeting, however, that “the information changes daily” and those plans could shift over time.
“We remain committed to continuing to communicate with our school community as things evolve if there are changes,” Clayton said. “We are optimistic that we’ll be able to continue with the current process … and we’ll continue to keep close communication with our local health experts” and consult public health guidance, Clayton said.
The decision comes as the delta variant, a highly contagious coronavirus strain, spreads in Kentucky.
Monday’s board meeting also saw several local parents and residents share their concerns about whether critical race theory is being taught in schools.
Critical race theory’s adherents hold that “the law and legal institutions in the United States are inherently racist insofar as they function to create and maintain social, economic and political inequalities between Whites and non-Whites, especially African Americans,” the Encyclopedia Britannica said.
Responding to parents’ comments, Clayton said he was unable to make a sweeping statement, in large part because perceptions of the framework vary widely between individuals.
“First and foremost, curriculum is determined by law in the state of Kentucky at the school level. However, parents, students, staff, everyone in our community has access to that curriculum,” Clayton said.
“In terms of critical race theory, CRT and some of these other terms, to my knowledge, I haven’t seen them listed in any curriculum in the state of Kentucky. In terms of what is and what is not taught in our school classrooms, we focus on the most essential concepts and standards. Now, being in a school district that’s very diverse … there are numerous conversations that come into our classrooms. We train our teachers to be developmentally appropriate with the level of instruction that occurs inside the classroom, and we want our teachers to present any and all subject matter in an objective manner.”
Clayton said he believes the district’s educators do a good job of navigating political issues or current events that may come up during classroom discussions, and he invited those with questions about content to speak with school-level principals.
That said, a handful of local parents and residents said they were concerned about critical race theory and “Marxist ideologies” being taught in schools – though they offered no evidence to support their claims.
Larry Causey, a former member of the Warren County Board of Education who served for 12 years, wanted to “warn” the board that he would have his two grandchildren pulled out of attending WCPS.
“I have no intention of them being told that they’re bad people because of the color of their skin, and that’s exactly what it’s about,” Causey said.
Gary Peller – a law professor at the Georgetown University Law Center and a leading member of the critical legal studies and critical race theory movements – said that’s exactly not what the theory is about.
He recently told the Daily News that the framework doesn’t teach that White people are inherently oppressive. The theory hones in on systems, not individuals, and how they perpetuate racial inequality and racism.
“We don’t believe in blaming or shaming anyone,” Peller told the Daily News.
Another public commenter, Brian Witty, who identified himself as a business owner and a volunteer said he views critical race theory as a “dangerous ideology.”
“I believe it’s segregating our kids” and teaching them that “the color of their skin is something that should divide them,” Witty said.
Another speaker, Cynthia Ribeiro, also took issue with critical race theory and more specifically the 1619 Project and the Wit & Wisdom literacy curriculum, which cover topics like slavery, school integration and the Civil Rights movement.
“These are things that we’d like to know about as parents,” she said.
Ribeiro also questioned whether the school system was becoming “transgender friendly” and what that might mean. She was also concerned about the possible return of masks, she said, “because there’s a lot of bad results from wearing masks, emotionally and mentally.”
The board heard from one last speaker during its public comment period – Bristow Elementary School Principal Chris Stunson.
Stunson was attending the meeting with students participating in Western Kentucky University’s Young Male Leadership Academy, “which develops leadership skills in young males of diverse backgrounds by exploring the teaching profession,” according to the program’s website.
Stunson, who is African American, said YMLA students recently earned recognition at a national Educators Rising conference for their solutions to address such classroom issues.
“Our young men came up with a solution to this dilemma that included debating the topics, speaking with our school board members. Our children have solutions to our problems that adults can’t solve. Warren County Public Schools is preparing our children to solve these problems. The very dilemma we are facing tonight, our students solved to the point where they were recognized at the second place in the nation,” Stunson said. “We have solutions. We are preparing our students.”
– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @NewsByAaron or visit bgdailynews.com.