Masks at Conestoga Public Schools

Murray, NEB- The Coronavirus pandemic has affected the Class of 2023 since March of their freshman year. The underclassmen have never had a year of high school untouched by the global pandemic. Whether it be lockdowns, online schooling, masking, or social distancing, students have been resilient. However, parents and communities have increasingly become frustrated with pandemic mitigation efforts and swept away by online misinformation.

Frustration and misinformation took the largest incursion into Conestoga Public Schools at the monthly school board meeting on Jan. 11. As Conestoga Superintendent Beth Johnsen delivered the Coronavirus portion of her monthly report to the board, interruptions could be heard from the audience. These interruptions questioned the justification for the mask mandate, district case numbers, and one man mentioned a print out of Governor Pete Ricketts’s response to the Douglas County Mask Mandate.

Another interruption occurred as Board member Dean Nickles began to question Dr. Johnsen on the policy. He asked whether other school districts in Cass County were enforcing the same policy and played down the recommendations of the Cass/Sarpy Health Department. Board member Nickles did not comply with the district mask policy for the entirety of the meeting.

Following the report, Board President Allison Welch motioned to give the audience an opportunity to convey their thoughts to the board on Conestoga’s COVID-19 response. The forefront of that being the Jan. 5 decision to enforce a mandatory mask requirement till Jan. 14. President Welch made it clear no new decision would be made that night at the school board meeting as a separate coronavirus response committee would be making a decision at a closed door meeting on Jan. 14.

The committee on Jan. 14 made the decision for a return to the mask-optional policy that was in place for most of the school year. A parentsquare notice form Dr. Johnsen said, “We will continue to monitor positive cases and following our masking protocols, as we have done during our 1st semester of this school year.”

This decision seems to appease the community members who made objections at the January school board meeting. However, it may not be the best decision for public health based on the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Omicron variant. Students and staff will see the results as time goes on.