LEXINGTON, Ky. — With Gov. Andy Beshear releasing new guidelines, but not mandates, surrounding mask-wearing in schools, school district leaders in Kentucky have looming decisions to make as their fall semesters rapidly approach.

What You Need To Know

  • Fayette Co. has yet to decide on mask policy for the fall semester

  • Gov. Beshear recommended mask-wearing in schools

  • Some public comment at Fayette school board meeting displayed mistrust, misinformation

  • Board plans to decide before classes begin Aug. 11

The Fayette County Board of Education held its first in-person meeting since Feb. 2020 in a new, sprawling, multilevel district facility Monday evening. The fresh office carpet was christened with public comment as the first day of classes arrive on Aug. 11.

Opinions put forward by parents and members of the community ranged from a desire for all students and staff to be masked, to a desire for choice on whether to mask a child, to distrust in health organizations, to misinformation popular in fringe social media circles.

“It is vitally important that we follow the science and guidance from our health officials, ensuring students can have a successful school year,” said Jessica Hiler, president of the Fayette County teachers union. She said the recent guidance from Beshear and Commonwealth health officials prompted her opinion.

Fewer than two hours before the meeting, Beshear asked schools to require masks for unvaccinated students and staff, and all students under 12 years of age while indoors during school. He added that everyone should wear masks in school, regardless of vaccination status, if they wanted to avoid disruptions to academic and athletic activities. 

The speaker who followed Hiler, Matthew Vied, feared any limits on student interaction and learning space could harm his first-grade child.

“No masks, no partitions, no limits on physical interaction, no limits on the use of physical learning tools,” Vied requested of the board.

“We are just asking for choice on this,” said Mica Simms. “You all don’t know my daughter. You don’t know her medical history. She does not want to wear a mask and she can’t wear a mask. She cannot get vaccinated.”

“Masks severely restrict oxygen levels after three minutes,” said one woman named Mary. “They dehumanize individuals, they depersonalize individuals.”

According to the World Health Organization, masks, when worn properly, do not lead to oxygen deficiency nor carbon dioxide intoxication.

“In satanic rituals they wear masks and stand six feet apart,” Mary continued. “And we are not in a satanic ritual.”

While groupings of the number six are commonly associated with the Christian devil, the decision to use six feet of distance appears to be entirely for function and not style. Early in the pandemic, the CDC recommended people stand six feet apart, offering it as a generally safe distance to avoid the range of average saliva droplets traveling through the air.

Back at the meeting, Andrea Welker walked to the podium and thanked the board for basing prior policy decisions on scientific evidence. She explained that her husband, a nurse practitioner at a nearby hospital, would have attended the meeting had he not been treating COVID-19 patients at that very moment.

“I think that there is an oppositional, defiant aspect of the mask wearing, to the vaccination, of being told what to do by the government, being told what to do by the CDC,” Welker said in an interview with Spectrum News 1 after the meeting.

“We need to rely on those who actually have the expertise, who are doing studies.”

COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Kentucky. Brand-new Fayette County Superintendent Dr. Demetrus Liggins read aloud Beshear’s new guidelines and said the district's “COVID Core Team” would consider them when they met Tuesday.

That announcement from Liggins was the only official business conducted regarding masks. There was no vote held on the matter nor one proposed. 

After the meeting, a board member told Spectrum News 1 they couldn’t offer a specific date when a decision would be made. They acknowledged the first day of classes was fast-approaching and said they would be certain to deliver a plan before the opening bell.

Those who commented at the meeting and those with students at home would have to wait for clarity, as it appears more certain with each passing day a new school year will bring with it a virus they had hoped to leave in the past.