Mask and vaccine requirements undecided for next year

Kris Long, Sports Editor

There is still no word on potential requirements for vaccination or mask wearing next school year, and there is no expected date for an announcement as of yet.

Though school is expected to be fully in-person without a remote option next year and back to the regular schedule, there is a possibility that masks will be required in school next year.

“Within our walls we can mandate masking if we wanted to,” district communications director Michele Jones said, “whether or not the county or the state or the city has it. So it’s just way too early for us to have any conversation yet about what the fall will look like.”

Vaccination requirements, unlike masking — with the exception of a reinforced state mask mandate —  are not a district decision. The decision on mandatory vaccination will come from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment like all vaccination requirements, and the heavily-Republican Kansas Legislature is unlikely to approve a requirement for COVID-19 vaccination to attend schools. With other vaccines, schools have a choice as to whether to enforce vaccine requirements on a district level or not. So, once the state has made their decision the district can choose to enforce it or not, but USD 383 cannot independently require vaccines under current rules. 

“We haven’t had any of those conversations yet,” Jones said. “I don’t know if [KDHE] will make it a requirement or not. Although that’s the nations that are required, they all come through the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.” 

With vaccines still only available to those over 16, it is highly unlikely all students in the district will be required to get vaccinated by next school year. Trials are currently ongoing for children older than 12 and there is a possibility that the state requires older students to be immunized, it is still unclear.

While requirements are still up in the air, students over 16 are still encouraged to get vaccinated to stop the spread. Once they are vaccinated they should notify the school nurse of their inoculation. Taking preemptive steps will avoid disorganization if the requirement comes late in the school year. 

“I don’t know if next year when we come back to school if they are going to make that required immunization,” Manhattan High nurse Robin Mall said. “If you have had the COVID vaccination, please let the nurse know… I just want to be prepared. I don’t want to have to backtrack and try to… get everybody’s immunizations entered.”

Mask requirements are likely to be less divisive and easier to enforce as they have no potential negative health impacts than vaccinations, which would suggest a mask mandate is more likely than a vaccination mandate. However, the decision to require masks will depend entirely on the spread of COVID-19 over the summer months and case counts entering the school year.

“As of now, there is only speculation, and I think that that’s probably proper,” building principal Micheal Dorst said. “If you ask people to make a decision in the middle of what we’ve gone through the past year, I don’t think it would be wise, making the decision that would be months ahead. So I think [the speculation] that is happening right now is proper because around that is also potential planning.”