LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The auditorium at Central High School in Louisville became a stage for ideas, emotion, and at many times, what doctors would classify as misinformation.

What You Need To Know

  • JCPS board voted in favor of mandatory mask-wearing by everyone inside school buildings

  • The board voted unanimously in favor of the proposal

  • Parents were present at the meeting, some asking for JCPS to make masking optional

  • Another said "masks will keep kids in school"

It was the latest chapter in a summer filled with public debates over mask requirements in Kentucky schools.

In a presentation Tuesday evening, Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio recommended mandatory mask-wearing by everyone — students and adults — inside school buildings. The health proposal featured other safety measures, including COVID-19 testing (with parent consent), vaccine clinics and cleaning methods that became all too familiar to families last year.

“The number of staff and students that we will have to quarantine if we do not take every step — our only hope of staying in school is that we implement every mitigation strategy possible, so our students stay in school,” Pollio said during his presentation.

The board voted unanimously, 6-0, in favor of the proposal. But before the tally, an hour-long public comment period was anything but clean cut.

“Please leave the decision to mask up to the parents,” said Natalie Rawlings. “Keep your mandates and masks off my children, who would like to be children without the added smothering of a mask and the constant reminder that they are supposed to live in fear of a virus that they are in the lowest-risk category of experiencing.”

The CDC website states, “While fewer children have been sick with COVID-19 compared to adults, children can be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, can get sick from COVID-19, and can spread the virus that causes COVID-19 to others.”

"Masks will keep kids in school,” said Michael Washburn, the father of a JCPS first-grader. “Put another way, the lack of a comprehensive masking, and other protocols, will keep kids out of school. Every time there’s an exposure, kids will be forced out of their schools until it is safe for them to return.”

“Let’s try to remember the first principle of the public school system, that it exists for the students and not the teachers,” said Ryan Morrison, who opposed the mask requirement. “And, the second principle is there will never be zero COVID in our world. So, we have to learn to live with it like all the other risks in our lives.”

“I want to remind everyone here that we protect not only children who cannot yet get vaccinated, but all of the most vulnerable people in our society,” said Tiffany Calvert, a parent of a JCPS first-grader and a supporter of the safety measures implemented by the district.

There has been heated debate on the issue of mandated masking across Kentucky’s public school districts this summer. But Pollio and the board believed this would keep kids and their teachers safe and in school, which begins Aug. 11.

July 28, 2021 Editor's note: A previous version of this story misspelled Superintendent Marty Pollio's last name as Polio on one instance. The error has been corrected.