Luther—Two weeks before the scheduled start of the 2020-2021 school year, the Luther Public Schools Board of Education voted to approve a mask policy and a “Covid-19 School Plan.”
Superintendent Barry Gunn told told the board members, “We are stacking the deck in our favor to keep our school open with minimal disruptions.”
The Special meeting held on Thursday afternoon brought four board members, the superintendent, about a half-dozen faculty and staff members and a couple of parents and observers to the board room where seats were spread apart and many wore masks. The Luther Register covered the meeting and provided live comments on Facebook. (See below for the embedded post).
In a fairly straight–forward proceeding, the board passed both policies with an amendment to allow seventh and eighth grade students to participate in extracurricular activities, along with high school students, who choose the virtual learning option.
“I have struggled with this. My hope was that in August things might have improved, but they are setting records almost daily now. We have been forced to deal with it,” Gunn said. “I am not a medical expert and don’t know if they (masks) work. I am in charge of Luther Public Schools, and I am who people are looking to for answers. Students, staff, teachers expect me to do what is safe.”
Gunn said the mask and the Covid-19 policies will be “living documents” that will change over time. He hopes as soon as this semester if the number of cases of the virus in Oklahoma County decreases.
“I have 800 students on August 13. They are my responsibility. I have to do all within my power to make it as safe as I can. I know this is going to make people uncomfortable. I know it’s divisive. At the end of the day, with this policy, we will have done all we can. I strongly feel like based on evidence I have heard, it won’t hurt anything. It’s uncomfortable. If it prevents illness or a death, I can live with that. If someone dies, and I didn’t do anything except sit around, I can’t live with that. Our policy has common sense built into it. It is not perfect. Teachers, and principal approval, masks can be removed,” Gunn told the board.
Public comments were not allowed during the Special meeting but Mr. Gunn said he had been busy with emails and calls on the issue.
Before the vote, Board Member Brandon Rogers asked to table the issue to allow for input.
“I don’t believe data supports masks for school-age children; nor or do I feel we have the data in our community. I fear we are ignoring the effects of staff and students, not to mention the mental and emotional toll. Mr. Gunn, you’ve worked very hard on the options. But I think we’ll lose students from it. I pray we make the right decision. Please consider a survey of staff and parents before we make this call. Their opinion on this matters. That’s my recommendation. To table til we get accurate view,” said Rogers.
Board President Steve Broudy said there was neither enough time nor resources to look at all of the 800 situations of each student.
“I am not an educator or medical professional but we trust the teacher, and can empower them to make these decision. If we don’t protect our teachers and we have an outbreak … if we don’t have teachers, we’ll have no school,” he said.
Rogers said he worried the mask mandate might result in a loss of some teachers.
Coach Marcellus Fields, appointed to the board earlier this year, said he prays this will all be over with “a vaccine or something. The cases are all over the world.”
Coach Fields said he doesn’t cuss but “you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” He said this policy is a start, “most of us are sick of being in the house with our kids and grandkids … they need to go to school and we need them to go to school, and follow instructions. I realize some parents won’t follow instructions. I’ve been in education for 40 years, and that’s how it is,” he said.
The vote was 3-to-1, with Rogers being the only no vote on the mask policy.
Mr. Gunn said plans will be communicated with his community as soon as possible.
The school board also approved a proposal to spend part of the $236,000 the district receives in CARES ACT grants on technology. They will purchase 400 Chromebooks to accommodate students who choose a virtual school option. He says if they “every get back to normal” this will also help the district. LPS proposed a bond in 2019 to spend $750,000 on Chromebooks, as part of a larger proposal, but voters did not pass it.