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Union school board votes to keep mask requirement in place

A mask is still an important protective measure for both the unvaccinated and the vaccinated.
Ian Morton
/
NPR
A mask is still an important protective measure for both the unvaccinated and the vaccinated.

Union Public Schools’ mask requirement will remain in place at least into January.

The Union board voted 3–2 Tuesday night against a recommendation by Superintendent Dr. Kirt Hartzler to suspend the requirement for students, staff and visitors to wear masks indoors on district property.

Union spokesman Chris Payne said that recommendation was made because COVID cases in the district have fallen significantly, but board members decided it’s not quite time to drop the masks.

"I know a lot of times the public feels like maybe they don't always have a say, but it's, like, you know, this is why we have duly elected board members, and they don't always agree with the superintendent recommendations, and that's a good thing. It gives us all a voice," Payne said.

The district will continue to allow people to opt out of the mask requirement for medical or religious reasons, as well as strongly held personal beliefs.

"We've had, I think only about 6% of students that had opted out, believe it's about 12% of staff that had opted out. So, we had a lot of people that were complying, and it really did help our COVID positive cases to come down," Payne said.

As of Nov. 18, the district had 52 COVID cases, down from a high of 185 cases reported on Sept. 8. On Tuesday, there were only 15 reported cases districtwide among students and staff.

Jenks and Tulsa public schools have dropped their mask requirement and expectation within the past few weeks, citing lower case counts. McAlester reinstated theirs this week because of rising COVID cases.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.