Bellevue Board Hears Mask Protests from Moms
This story has been corrected to remove a comment attributed to Superintendent Robb Smith that was originally included in the incorrect context.
The Bellevue board of education listened to protests from three women over the requirement that students wear masks while in school.
Governor Andy Beshear first issued an executive order earlier this month mandating masks to be worn in public and private schools but much of his executive order power related to responding to the COVID-19 pandemic was stripped by the state Supreme Court, including the mask mandate.
However, because the Kentucky board of education also issued a mask mandate, the requirement still applies to public schools in the commonwealth.
"We are concerned about mask wearing," Ashley Sterling told the Bellevue board. "We were wondering what our options are. As a parent, I am done with my kids wearing masks.
Superintendent Robb Smith explained that the board of education's requirement was to be in effect for 270 days. Smith had previously determined that masks would be required in Bellevue schools even before the governor and state board's actions.
"None of us want it," he said of the mitigation effort employed as COVID cases and hospitalizations spike in the state and the region.
Sterling said that her children now hate school and that she is upset to see that.
She asked why Catholic schools don't have to demand that their students wear masks and Smith told her that the Catholic school system does not answer to the state board of education. Catholic schools previously appeared to benefit from a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge William Bertelsman related to masks after a challenge was filed by parents of students at St. Joseph School in Cold Spring.
"We all know it's going to last more than thirty days," another woman in attendance said.
All three women protesting masks said that they wanted to know if they had the option to put their kids into virtual learning. They contended that it was unhealthy to wear masks all the time and that their kids weren't seeing smiling faces.
Sterling said that one of her kids came home thinking that she was going to be written up because she was wearing her mask below her nose. She said her daughter has asthma.
Smith said that if Sterling's daughter has asthma, she could get a doctor to give her a medical abstention so that she wouldn't have to wear a mask.
"Until the law is lifted I have to follow the law," Smith said. "It is also an insurance issue. We are in a tough spot."
He said that he sympathized with the moms.
Sterling asked if the students were sitting six feet apart when they ate lunch, and Smith said no, the district does not have room to seat students that far apart.
Sterling said that her kids played sports all year last year, but only went to school half the year, and she thought something was not right about that. She thanked Smith for his help.
Smith went on to talk about how difficult the past year-plus has been on the district and the board of education. He spoke of how on March 11, 2020, he was sitting in a meeting of superintendents discussing how the Covid virus would affect the schools, and then they were told they had 48 hours to come up with a plan to shut down the schools and provide virtual schooling.
Some boards had a lot of trouble with that, but Bellevue's board distinguished the district, he said.
"We have become a leader in our region and state, and we can't thank you enough," Smith said to the board. "You are fierce advocates for kids."
He then presented each member of the board with a framed certificate which proclaimed them each a Kentucky Colonel, including Chris Groneck, who was on the board last year, and who passed away earlier this year.
In a surprise move, district officials also gave the superintendent a framed certificate proclaiming Smith a Kentucky Colonel, also.
Kentucky Colonel commissions are awarded to individuals for noteworthy accomplishments, contributions to civil society, remarkable deeds, or outstanding service to the community or nation.
The board passed their tax rates for 2021-2022. Rates went up a little; last year's real estate tax rate rose from $91.7 per $100,000 of assessed value, to $94.1 per $100,000. Personal property went up from to $96.9 per $100,000 of assessed value, and the motor vehicle tax remained at $101.4 per $100,000 of assessed value.
-Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor