Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
The Carter County Board of Education began their meeting on Monday evening swearing in new board member Miranda Tussey, and then jumped into the superintendent’s report and public comment period.
That public comment centered mostly around the possibility of a mask requirement for students.
Melissa Carter opened the public comment period. Identifying herself as a mother and medical professional, she told the board she had a background in nursing and respiratory therapy, and claimed that masks are unhealthy for children to wear all day. She claimed that children who wear masks all day can suffer from hypercapnia – or carbon dioxide retention – as well as hypoxia or a lack of adequate oxygen.
She said the environment inside a mask was “toxic” and that forcing children to wear a mask all day would lead to them “rebreathing contaminated air.”
She said if the board did require children to wear mask, which she characterized as a medical device, that they were co-opting the role of a doctor and essentially practicing medicine without a license.
She also said that wearing a mask increased the strain on children’s hearts and kidneys, while reducing their life span. She also claimed that wearing a mask and causing this extra strain disrupted the “homeostasis” of a child’s body and when they had to wear masks “children’s bodies are fighting all day to maintain pH.”
Roberta Lucas, who said she worked in nursing as well, told the board that while she had seen the damage COVID-19 could do, she was opposed to any move that would require students to wear masks.
“Forcing our kids to wear a mask is not beneficial,” Lucas said, adding that wearing a mask should be a matter of parental choice.
Bud Whitney, who said he has grandchildren in the system, questions the psychological damage that had been caused by a year of social distancing, what he termed “paranoia” surrounding the virus, and inability to see facial expressions because of wearing masks.
Board member Kirk Wilburn, who said the board had no intention of making any decisions regarding masks at Monday’s meeting, told the parents and grandparents while the board appreciated them showing up to express their opinion, if the governor or department of education did choose to enforce a new mask mandate, they would be required to follow that ruling – an assertion that was backed up by the district’s attorney.
While masks were not on the board’s agenda prior to the meeting, parents and guardians said they showed up to register their opinion because of a recommendation from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) that the school year begin with unvaccinated students – which includes all students under age 12 – masking up.
The recommendation comes as a new surge hits Kentucky and the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus established a foothold across the nation.
At least one parent, Mindy Pfau, said she would support a mask mandate.
Pfau noted that the CDC has asked the unvaccinated to wear masks, in addition to the KDE recommendation. The American Academy of Pediatrics, she said, is also recommending masks for students over the age of two once school reopens.
“Why not follow the recommendations of professionals?” Pfau asked.
She said the county’s students had already missed out on too much over the previous school year, and needed to return to a classroom setting. If masks are required to do that safely, she said, that is what she would support.
Whitney attempted to dismiss Pfau’s concerns, noting that the virus hasn’t been shown to have the same impact on children that it has on adults, but Pfau was undeterred. Those students, she said, could still spread the virus to others if they became infected. Borrowing Whitney’s concerns about the psychological impact of the virus, she asked about the lasting impact of a child losing a grandparent because they brought the virus home to them.
“I can’t imagine putting that burden on the shoulders of our children,” Pfau said.
Superintendent Dr. Ronnie Dotson said, as far as he was aware, there were no cases in the school system in the previous year resulting from students passing the virus to one another at school. There were students in the school system who contracted the virus, but it was believed they were exposed outside of school.
Pfau cited that as evidence that masking and social distancing helped avoid the spread of the virus, adding that she would not be comfortable with students who were too young to take the vaccine returning to school unmasked, especially as virus cases were spiking in the state and county once again.
While some were unwilling to compromise, others asked for the district to consider options that would grant students more freedom from their masks while maintaining safety.
One unnamed parent said that her nine-year-old cried every day they had to wear a mask to school last year. She asked if the district could consider building more breaks into the schedule for next year if they require masks.
She said an extra break where kids could go outside mask free, or otherwise be allowed a space to socially distance without their masks during the day, would have been helpful for her child.
In other action the board discussed allocation of resources and school calendars.
While the school district does have to meet certain minimum requirements mandated by the state, Dotson explained, each school and district has some autonomy through their site based decision making council on how resources will be allocated and used, but the board allocates those resources.
He said Carter County currently allocated teacher resources based on student population and that their formula results in more teachers per student than is required by the state.
For instance, the state recommendation for high school students is one teacher per 31 students. Carter County’s formula gives them one teacher for every 28 students. As a result of this formula, and shared resources, East Carter High School has 10 more teachers than they would have following the state mandated formula only, plus an additional “half” teacher splitting their time between schools.
West Carter High School has eight more teachers than they’d have under a state minimum plan.
Dotson noted that there is similar flexibility with school calendars, but regardless of when districts choose to begin classes they all have to meet the same number of minimum days.
Dotson also took time during his report to thank Judy Dotson for her service as she plans for retirement this year.
In board action the board moved to approve various action items by consent, and to approve schematic designs for the East and West Carter Middle School HVAC upgrades, school resource officers contracts with the cities of Grayson and Olive Hill, salary tables that include a two percent raise to help retain staff, and an athletic trainers services consultant agreement with KDMS.
Dotson also announced, and the board approved, a plan for school supply allocation that increases spending for each student from $140 to $200 for supplies. He said no families will be asked to pay out-of-pocket for necessary school supplies this year.
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