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 email@example.com.