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School mask mandate sparks debate as some groups push back at Kansas GOP criticism

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TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT — As a national debate takes place over whether schools should require masks, the issue seems to have stirred controversy among some political parties, as they argue over what method works best.

An ongoing debate between some Democrats and Republicans, who disagree on whether masks are actually effective in stopping the spread of the coronavirus, has sparked once again as some schools are grappling with the impact of rising coronavirus cases.

Last week, the Wellington School District announced that it had to temporarily close its schools until September 7. According to a letter from the superintendent, the district had at least 40 positive cases within just the first eight days of school.

It is our hope that the temporary shut down will allow the virus incubation period to run its
course. In the meantime, we are reviewing policy and consulting with our medical staff in order
to make sure we are doing all we can to reopen schools safely on September 7th. We are
working diligently to make adjustments for the rest of the school year in regards to learning,
athletics and activities”

Superintendent Adam Hatfield, USD 353

The superintendent’s letter pointed to an increase in positive cases as they conducted more tests. A special Board of Education meeting is being held Wednesday to review the district’s Safety and Operation Plan.

This comes after other schools have also had to readdress their approach to school safety during the pandemic. For example, Wichita Public Schools implemented a mask mandate that went into effect Monday, as coronavirus cases started to rise.

However, some school districts across the state had mask mandates in place as schools reopened. Topeka Public Schools attribute their reduced spread to preventative measures that they have in place.

A spokesperson for Topeka Public Schools told the Kansas Capitol Bureau on Tuesday that due to their safety efforts and partnerships with health agencies, less than 1.3% of staff or students have tested positive, and the district has not had any cluster outbreaks in schools.

Topeka Public Schools has utilized the following mitigation strategies to keep both staff and students safe throughout the pandemic (i.e. air filtration systems, UV lights, social distancing, indoor wearing of masks, sanitizer sprays, water filling stations, and access to onsite vaccination clinics).”

Spokesperson, Topeka Public Schools

However, some Republican lawmakers have spoken unfavorably about mask mandates and schools having those requirements in place.

In a news release, the Kansas Democratic Party fired back at remarks from House Majority Leader and State Representative Dan Hawkins, a Republican from Wichita, who’s been outspoken about his rejection of mask orders.

Kansas House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins has dangerously spread misinformation on COVID-19 and the effectiveness of masks for students. Now, school-related cases across the state are on the rise, especially in school districts where masks are not required.”

Kansas Democratic Party

Hawkins defended his stance on mask mandates in a statement sent to the Kansas Capitol Bureau on Tuesday, pointing to an article published by the New York Mag that suggests the science behind wearing masks in schools remains uncertain.

There are well researched reports that show the science of masking kids remains uncertain. Sadly the Kansas Democratic Party will grasp at anything to distract from Governor Kelly’s constant failures and authoritarian actions that have turned tens of thousands of Kansans against her over the course of her notorious pandemic response.”

Rep. Dan Hawkins, (R) Wichita

Hawkins’ remarks and the sentiments of other GOP lawmakers have received push back from some Democrats, who are urging people to take the pandemic seriously.

Health professionals, and those working on the front line, have urged people to follow safety measures and get vaccinated.

Dr. Dennis Cooley, a pediatrician with the American Academy of Pediatrics, said it’s the only way to stop the virus and highly contagious variants from spreading.

“We’re not going to defeat this until we get people vaccinated. That’s going to be the main number one thing. Continue to wear your mask. Continue to do the distancing.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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