COVID Causes School District to Implement Second Round of Mask Mandates

Due to a recent rise in COVID cases amongst the Gardner-Edgerton community, a number of mitigations have taken effect in the school district.


Isabella Rankin

Turner Brown and Ellie Parks sporting masks due to the mandate.

On Monday, January 24, grades 9-12 returned to mandated masks. If the percentage of students absent due to COVID are down to 2%, masks will be optional once again beginning February 7.

In November, the members of the Board of Education had decided that if the number of COVID related absences went above 4%, they would require masks for all high school students. If the number was back down to 2% after two weeks of mandated masks, then masks would return to being optional. The current board members upheld this decision when the numbers reached 4% after students returned to school from winter break.

But mask requirements aren’t the only thing COVID-19 has affected in the Gardner Edgerton School District. The growing staffing problem reached a peak when the substitute teacher shortage reached the high school. Due to the high demand for substitutes, a new Kansas law eliminated the requirement of at least 60 hours of college credit to be a substitute teacher. Substitutes are now only required to obtain a highschool diploma. The state left it to the discretion of school districts to set their own age limit. USD 231 has decided to make the age limit 18.

Another change was the Board of Education decision to get rid of contact tracing. While contact tracing wasn’t discussed at the most recent special board meeting on January 18, the Director of Community Relations, Ben Boothe, sent an email to USD 231 employees regarding the decision. Boothe attached a memo to the email from Kansas governor Laura Kelly.

“For a 30-day period starting Tuesday 1/18/2022, school districts may temporarily suspend identifying specific susceptible close contacts potentially exposed to COVID-19 in classroom and extracurricular settings,” Kelly said. “KDHE and KSDE will reevaluate this recommendation after 30 days.”

After the attachment, Boothe left a comment on how the district will handle the matter.

“Due to the volume of community spread and the district’s limited capacity to trace, we will follow these recommendations,” Boothe said.

The omission of this practice reflects the toll taken on the district by the rise of cases and shortage of staff. Megan Cibulski is currently the only attendance worker at the high school.

“It has been completely overwhelming to say the least,” Cibulski said. “I’ve been having to stay thirty minutes later everyday.”

Cibulski noticed that the student attendance had worsened since the return from winter break.

“It’s about doubled our absences since we’ve come back,” Cibulski said.

It’s about doubled our absences since we’ve come back.

— Megan Cibulski

She also pointed out that the increase of COVID cases had to do with the holiday season and the multiple variants. The week of January 24 through January 28, 20-30% of students were gone everyday, and 4% of that was due to COVID related absences.

“With COVID [initially], the most we had was fifteen kids out on average daily. Since Omicron, [it’s] more like 75 kids out everyday. It’s been a huge increase with the variant,” Cibulski said.

Since Omicron, it’s more like 75 kids out everyday.

— Megan Cibulski

 It’s been a huge increase with the variant,” Cibulski said.

Cibulski believes the attendance office should be expanded, and she’s been getting told that’s what should happen by administration. However, no movement on this has been made so far.

“I definitely need some more help,” Cibulski said.

Since masks have been mandated again, there is a large number of students that want to know if the high school will be mask optional by the end of the semester.

“It looks like with our numbers slowly decreasing we could be done with [masks],” Cibulski said. “I’m probably always going to wear a mask. But I think it should be [student] choice.”