School mask mandate passes

Muskogee Board of Education passed a districtwide mask mandate Tuesday after brief discussion and one comment from the public.

The mandate, which takes effect Wednesday, passed 4 to 1, with board member Danny Shiew opposing. Under the mandate, all students, staff and visitors must wear masks while on district property.

Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall said he wants to ensure staff and students are safe.

"I am not going to ask my principals and staff to stand at the front door to make sure every single student has a mask on, or that they have a form opting out of it," Mendenhall said. "The point is, I want my students to be safe and the only thing I know to do is to mandate a mask."

Mendenhall said parents or staff may fill out an online form opting out of the mask mandate. They may opt out for documented medical conditions, sincerely held religious beliefs or strong personal beliefs.

"I go into buildings now and would say we have maybe 20 percent, 15 percent of our students wearing a mask," he said. 

The superintendent said that over the past 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, he has sought to follow science.

"I will say this, my number one goal and responsibility has been to keep our children safe and keep our staff safe," he said. "At this point in time, after looking at our numbers and looking where we are at in Muskogee, Oklahoma, I feel this is the right direction to go. We have had a steady number of increase of COVID cases in our school district."

Mendenhall said that in his 31 years in education he had not seen a more controversial or polarizing topic.

"Fifty percent of the people think I'm wrong and 50 percent of the people think I'm right," he said.

However, the contentious issue of mask mandates, which has drawn proponents and opponents speaking at other school districts and cities, was not evident at Tuesday's meeting.

The only person from the public to speak was Muskogee City Council member Ivory Vann, who spoke in support of the mandate. 

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