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Mandate lifted at Raymond Central elementary locations

Mandate lifted at Raymond Central elementary locations

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Raymond Central

RAYMOND – As of Nov. 24, the mask mandate for students at Raymond Central Public Schools facilities located in Saunders County will no longer be enforced.

The Board of Education voted Nov. 10 to end the requirement for students to wear masks at all the elementary schools in Valparaiso and Ceresco as of Nov. 24.

“We made the decision, following Thanksgiving, that elementary school masking would be optional,” said Board of Education President Dr. Harriet Gould.

Students will be required to wear masks at the junior-senior high school in Raymond and on buses throughout the district as long as requirements are in place.

The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department issued a local Directed Health Measure (DHM) that required masks back in August in respect to a surge in COVID-19 cases in the county. The administration issued a mask mandate for the entire district after the DHM was issued. The DHM was extended until Nov. 24.

The board has contemplated the mask mandate for the past few months. Gould said the item was kept on the meeting agenda because “it is of interest to our communities and our patrons.”

On Nov. 1, the board held a special meeting to discuss masks. A motion to remove the mask mandate at Ceresco and Valparaiso and return to a mask-optional policy died on a tie vote. A tie vote also doomed another motion to lift the mask mandate at all school sites.

However, the board came back nine days later to discuss the issue again, this time during the regular monthly meeting. Then, the board voted in favor of removing the mandate at the elementary sites located in Saunders County, where no mask mandate has been issued.

Over the last few months, members of the public have attended school board meetings to speak out or in favor of masks. Most of the speakers were opposed, according to the meeting minutes.

Gould said the board took care to listen to both sides because of the disunity mask mandates can create. She said the board struggled to make decisions that adhered to the DHM but also the wishes of the district patrons.

“It is certainly one of those issues that kind of divides a community,” she said.

The topic was emotional for patrons as well. Gould said the board listened to all sides as they made their decision.

“Our job is to educate our students and look at the health and welfare of everyone involved and keep them safe,” she said.

The main issue is the fact that RCPS is located in two different counties – Lancaster and Saunders. And Lancaster County has had stricter mandates throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The school district started the school year with a mask mandate. At the end of August, the board passed a motion to follow the DHM across the entire district, even the facilities located in Saunders County.

Because the COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for children age 5 and older, Gould said the board felt comfortable lifting the mask mandate.

“One of the main things I looked at, those kids previously had no opportunity to get vaccinated,” Gould said. “Now that’s available to them.”

The district will host a vaccine clinic after the DHM has been lifted, Gould said. As of press time, the deadline for the DHM was Nov. 24.

If the DHM is not extended, masks will be optional at all schools in the district as of Nov. 24.

Suzi Nelson is the managing editor of The Ashland Gazette. Reach her via email at suzi.nelson@ashland-gazette.com.

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WAVERLY – The Waverly Board of Education will hold a recall election in January after petitioners received the 88 signatures needed to force a vote to remove school board president Andy Grosshans from his position. 

The recall bid was filed by Rebecca Kellner-Ratzlaff following the board’s extension in July of a resolution that gives Waverly Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Cory Worrell the authority to make decisions on the district’s COVID-19 response without waiting for a scheduled school board meeting or calling a special meeting. 

“In passing this resolution, Mr. Grosshans silences the representation he was elected to uphold by his constituents,” Kellner-Ratzlaff wrote in her request for petitions filed on Sept. 7.

Grosshans’ defense statement included with the petition read: “For 12+ years, I have worked hard to make well-informed decisions to provide the students of District 145 with a safe environment in which to receive an outstanding education. In these difficult times, I hope for continued understanding and patience as we use key resources and area experts to do what’s in the best interest of all students.” 

The resolution was developed and approved at the start of the pandemic in April 2020, and the school board voted on July 5 to extend the resolution for the duration of the 2021-22 school year. 

Grosshans said the school’s attorney, Justin Knight, estimated that 90% of Nebraska school districts adopted similar resolutions in the 2020-21 school year, and approximately 40% readopted the resolutions for the current school year. Knight told Grosshans that many school districts felt like the worst of the pandemic had passed and that they could “let their guard down” for 2021-22.

“We didn’t feel that things were over yet and that we could afford to do that,” Grosshans said. “We felt it was important that Dr. Worrell had the ability to make quick decisions. These things with COVID can happen very, very rapidly, and if we have to rely on calling a meeting where it’s days out, then sometimes we’re losing valuable time.” 

The risk of COVID-19 transmission in Lancaster County is still high, according to the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department’s risk dial.

In August, Worrell exercised his authority granted by the resolution, choosing to follow a recommendation from the LLCHD that children under the age of 12 wear masks in school. Masks are currently required for all pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students in District 145.

On Sept. 6, District 145 parents attended the school board’s regularly scheduled meeting to voice their concerns over the decision to require masks in school. One parent, Angie Stara, co-founded a Facebook group called “Unmask Our Dist. 145 Kids,” and wrote in an email to The Waverly News after the meeting explaining that the group’s goal was “to get the school board members to take back the power they gave to the superintendent, back in July, to make all COVID-related decisions solely by himself.”  

The next day, Kellner-Ratzlaff filed for the petition to recall Grosshans. She was part of the “Unmask Our Dist. 145 Kids” group and in August had been active in petitioning against the school board’s initial decision to require masks for the 2021-22 school year. Kellner-Ratzlaff could not be reached for comment. 

Grosshans said he understands why citizens are frustrated, but he said the district’s COVID-19 response has been geared toward ensuring students receive an in-person education.

“I’m like everybody, I don’t like wearing a mask any more than anybody else does,” Grosshans said. “But I have a responsibility to the students and staff of this district to do everything we can to keep people safe and healthy while also providing the best option for quality education.”

Grosshans was a write-in candidate for the Waverly school board Ward 4 seat in the 2020 election. He had previously served on the school board since 2008 but hadn’t planned to run for the seat in 2020. No other candidates filed to run by the March 2, 2020 deadline, and the pandemic made its first impact locally that month.

“I thought, well, I’ll go ahead and try to serve another term to help get through this really difficult time,” Grosshans said. “By that point, I had to run as a write-in candidate, and by its very nature, that’s going to attract a lot fewer votes.” 

He won the election with 101 votes out of 249 total. For a recall petition to be sufficient under state statute 32-1303 (1), it must receive signatures totaling at least 35% of the number of votes cast in the general election. Rounded up, 35% of 249 works out to 88. 

Now, the nearly 1,400 voters in Ward 4 will receive mail-in ballots that read: “Shall Andy Grosshans be removed from the office of the Board of Education of Lancaster County School District 55-145, a/k/a Waverly School District 145?” Voters will then check “Yes” or “No.” Ballots must be returned to the Lancaster County Election Commission by 5 p.m. on Jan. 11.

Sam Crisler is a reporter for The Waverly News. Reach him via email at sam.crisler@wahoonewspaper.com.

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