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Burgin, Mercer School Boards Vote To End Mask Mandates

A boy pins mask material to a pattern is helped by Sarah Wheelwright, school age coordinator, at the Youth Center April 8, 2020, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Children at the center have taken on the task of creating masks for themselves and for care givers at Hill AFB’s Youth and Child Development Centers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Todd Cromar, via Wikimedia Commons).

Robert Moore
Herald Staff

Both local school systems have voted to end the universal masking mandate.

Masking had been mandated—first by Gov. Andy Beshear and then the Kentucky Board of Education—but the General Assembly passed Senate Bill I in a special session, giving local school districts control of the decision making process.

While the vast majority of school districts across the commonwealth have elected to continue the mask mandate, both school districts in Mercer County opted out.

The Burgin Board Of Education voted 4-1 to end universal masking.

According to a letter from Burgin School Superintendent Will Begley, masking will take place on all buses and everywhere in the building except when students are sitting at their personal workstations or when they are sitting down to eat.

One day later, the Mercer County Board of Education voted 3-2 to end universal masking.

While all staff and students are highly encouraged to wear masks inside school buildings—and eligible students are highly encouraged to get vaccinated—masks will not be required.

If for three consecutive days the school’s positivity rate—calculated from the first 26 days of the school year—from 5.5 to 11, masks will be required for at least a week until the cases go back down, according to a letter from Mercer Superintendent Jason Booher.

Students will need to be prepared to wear a mask in certain situations, like small group learning and will need to keep a mask at their desks.

The policies for Burgin and Mercer went into effect on Friday, Sept. 17.

The Mercer school board chose the most popular of three options according to a survey, Booher said. However, at the public participation section of the board meeting, most spoke in favor of keeping masks on.

David Sullivan, a teacher at Mercer Central, noted that Anderson, Boyle, Lincoln, Garrard Counties chose to keep the mask mandate.

Noting the surge of infections and deaths—COVID-19 has now killed about as many Americans as the 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic did in the same amount of time—Sullivan wondered why board members would choose to go against the consensus medical guidance on preventing spread of the coronavirus.

“Why should we unmask now?” Sullivan asked.

Mask wearing and vaccinations—methods of preventing the spread of communicable disease which this nation formulated in the early 20th century and has led to the eradication of diseases such as small pox and polio—have become politically controversial in the past year. One speaker called mask mandates “tyrannical” at the board meeting. Sullivan said he was not impressed with the arguments against the measures.

“Any responsible parent wouldn’t use that argument for seat belts,” said Sullivan, who said he knew two students who have lost parents to COVID-19 this month.

Sullivan noted that infections among children has surged in recent months.

“This is the wrong time to back away from protecting our children,” Sullivan said. “Masks save lives.”

While Cathy Akins, the executive-director of the Mercer County Health Department, spoke at the meeting and Sandy DeFoor, the chairwoman of the Mercer County Board of Health, wrote a letter asking the school board to keep the mask mandate, most members of the board were against the idea.

School board Chairman Randy Phillips said he’d heard from healthcare professionals on both sides.

“This is not going to be an easy decision, no matter what,” Phillips said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Phillips asked Booher for a recommendation. In a prepared statement, Booher said 2,200 people participated in the survey and the option to keep the mask mandate in place was the least popular.

“Schools are the only place our students and teachers are mandated to mask,” Booher said. He said school officials need to find a way to get back to normal, although he noted that mask wearing in certain circumstances was going to become a part of that new normal.

Booher recommended the most popular option, saying they could move back to wearing masks if they see a spike in infections.

“I think we need that flexibility,” Booher said. “We are still highly recommending to wear masks.”
Phillips and board members Amber Franceschi and Cliff Prewitt voted yes while Larry Yeager and Billy Montgomery voted no.

The board also approved paying incentives to staff to get vaccinated.

The district approved paying $200—$100 from the state and another $100 in matching funds from the district—to every employee who gets vaccinated before Dec. 1, 2021.

The policy will cost the district approximately $58,000, according to the finance officer. The payments could be made with federal ESSER funds.

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  1. Elizabeth Alford on September 22, 2021 at 1:15 pm

    I am a parent of two Burgin students and happened to attend the board meeting, why are you phrasing that we ended the mask mandate? There was only a small modification made. Students when at their desk and 3 feet apart are allowed to pull their masks down on their chin. Masks are required all other times except when eating. I feel like this story is misleading and a huge part of the reason the media is no longer credible.

    • Matthew on September 22, 2021 at 8:39 pm

      The comment about the Spanish flu is very accurate. Look what else resulted from prolonged wearing of masks. Set all differences aside and see how history is repeating itself. This mask mandateis tyrannical and is affecting everyone across the world in the same manner.

      As for the incentive, $$$ to steer people to get vaccinated how about we ask the doctors, business owners and others that “call the shots” to accept the liability if something goes wrong.

    • Matthew on September 23, 2021 at 1:18 pm

      With silencing a big issue today here’s what I see with the reporting of this matter. I tried to post my comment earlier today with no luck because people have a fear of truth. When I spoke at the meeting I specified information within our governing agency (OSHA) and how wearing a mask goes against the safety guidelines spelled out within OSHA regulations and safety standards.

      Also, I notice the reporter that wrote this article had done so with detail behind those that were in favor of the mandate but the ONLY person who spoke about no mask mandate was limited to the quoted word “tyrannical” instead of the important and factual info presented.

      I tried calling, presenting an email with the writer directly and now I’m reposting a comment that shouldn’t have been deleted the first time. All my attempts to present an issue are documented and the people will see what the herald is all about. Silencing the truth may be successful for now but I promise you that if you continue to not let the people see both sides then you’re only part of the problem and not the solution. God bless and Semper Fidelis.

  2. Tom Hardy on September 29, 2021 at 5:48 pm

    Anyone who accepts the $200 bribe should be ashamed. $100 of it is coming from tax dollars collected for the kids education; not to coerce employees into doing what is logical. What is wrong with New York’s approach: No excuse or shot, no paycheck.

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