Skip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
Gering parents form group protesting school mask requirements

Gering parents form group protesting school mask requirements

{{featured_button_text}}

A new kind of advocacy group has formed among Gering parents to advocate against mask mandates following a 14-day masking of the Gering High School freshmen at the end of September.

The group is called Parents for Choice, and its private Facebook group currently has over 200 members. Kristin Beamon, one of the active leaders of the group, said the group isn’t necessarily just about the mask issue.

“It got started about the masks, but it’s a parent’s choice group,” she said. “We want freedom of choice for our children.”

Requesting a meeting

The newly formed group used its collective power to petition for a special Gering Public Schools Board of Education meeting to discuss mask policy. However, the board denied the request.

In an email response to Beamon, which was provided to the Star-Herald, Board President BJ Peters said, “Our board is made up of dedicated busy professionals and at this time do not see the need to schedule a special board meeting.

“You will be provided ample opportunity at our next regular meeting on Oct. 18 to provide public comment.”

Beamon said she was offended by the email.

“He basically said they were busy professionals,” she said. “They didn’t see a need for a meeting at this time, which didn’t sit well with all of us who are also busy working moms trying to do what we need to do to protect our children. So it’s pretty offensive for the school board president to say, basically, they’re all too busy to deal with us.”

Superintendent Nicole Regan said the reason for not wanting to call for a special meeting is due more to the legal hoops to jump through in order to call a special meeting than anything else.

“First of all, we have to post our meetings a week in advance, and knowing that we were having a meeting — we had one last week, and then we’re having one on the 18th — we knew there were opportunities. And so, those are the forums where families need to come to and talk,” she said. “Having a separate meeting like this, if you go through the policy, you have to (go through) so many steps to have an actual special meeting, or emergency meeting. And there’s rules about calling it an emergency meeting and what that looks like. The board really felt like we’ve got a public forum set up, and if they want to come, this is the time that they can come.”

Whose decision is it anyway?

While Beamon finds the lack of a special meeting frustrating, she plans to be at the regular meeting on Oct. 18 to voice her opinions, which she says includes parental, rather than the school district, responsibility for children’s health.

“We’re serious about you do not control our kid’s body. You do not get to have a say in their health,” she said. “…We want freedom of choice. If (the district) wants to make recommendations, great, but they don’t have the authority, training, or knowledge to make decisions on medical equipment (masks).”

Regan acknowledged the lack of medical training, telling the Star-Herald she, along with the school board and other district staff, have been working to make decisions based on what other school districts are doing, recommendations from health care professionals and the latest data and information.

“I’m not a medical person, so we had to do the best (that we could),” she said. “…It wasn’t a decision made by me alone. It was a lot of consultation with medical (professionals) … and through us working with other districts — what are you going through, what does this look like? — And, of course, the board. I mean, nothing was in isolation about a decision. Personally, I don’t want that responsibility. Really it is, it was a collective agreement of what can we do best to keep kids in school.”

Regan said the decision to mask the freshmen class wasn’t made lightly, knowing that it was made despite meeting the threshold requirements outlined in the school district’s Safe Schools Roadmap, set before school began in August.

According to Regan, when three freshmen students in the same classroom all came down with COVID, it was classified by Panhandle Public Health District as an “emerging outbreak,” which was different from the thresholds set by the school.

“(If) we had 20 (cases) in different classrooms, different grade levels, there was no connection. They (PPHD) felt that in the freshman classroom, that was an emerging outbreak, because we had three students in the same class,” she said. “…They said, ‘Well, we are going to monitor it. If you get another case in that classroom, we will be recommending quarantine.’

“Well, we didn’t want to quarantine. Our goal was to keep kids in school. So we said, ‘OK, well, if we do our protective measure of masking, will you take that as a safety precaution and of slowing the spread and would you be OK, if we get more cases?’ And they said, ‘If you do a safety measure, we will not recommend a quarantine as quickly.”

Regan said that while they wanted to keep kids in school, they also wanted to take the least restrictive actions as well, which is why only freshmen and high school staff had to wear masks, and why it was only during the school day.

“We consulted with PPHD … and they said it was masking where the emerging outbreak (occurred),” she said. “The emerging outbreak was in a classroom, so the masking needed to be while in the classroom during instruction. … So as odd as that may feel knowing that there’s a volleyball game right after school, it was (that) we were going by the guidance and we tried to make it as least restrictive as possible.”

For Beamon, though, it was still too restrictive. She said that in her eyes, masks do more harm than good.

“I feel masks are more detrimental than any disease,” she said. “… If the district wants to make recommendations and say, ‘We think students should wear masks,’ then that’s where they should leave it.”

The future of masks at GPS

Beamon said when she attends the meeting, she wants to see change.

“My frustration is, do we all go, do we all voice our concern, they say ‘Thank you have a great night,’ then when do we hear back from them again?” she said. “Because again, I want to know what’s coming down the pipeline.”

Regan said she doesn’t necessarily see any changes coming to the current roadmap in place, but each incident will likely be on a case-by-case basis.

“I don’t want to make a lot of changes to disrupt anything. I would like to just take a case-by-case of what it means to keep kids in school,” she said. “That’s our primary focus, is what can we do for that. … I feel like we’re doing what (we can with) the information we have best to meet and keep kids safe. But also (not) knowing what the next day could bring also has really been a challenge. And so I don’t want to make too many changes.”

Without change, though, Beamon said she and some other parents are ready to pull their kids from school. After all, she alleged students and staff that didn’t wear masks were being punished with detentions, referrals and administrative leave, and she didn’t stand for that.

“You do what’s best for you. I’ll do what’s best for me and my family. We’re not all cookie cutter,” she said. “If Gering continues to do what it’s doing in taking freedoms away, then we will be forced to pull our kids out of the district. … We don’t want any kids being punished for making their own personal health decisions. Forcing anyone to wear a mask against their free will is wrong.”

Regan said it’s just like any other expectation — if it’s not met, then there is discipline.

“Just like anything else, if a student refuses to do something, they go through their levels of discipline, or consequences, in regards to if it’s insubordination and things like that,” she said. “So they (faculty and staff) worked really hard in establishing those relationships with the students of saying, ‘This is the expectation. What is your choice?’

At the end of the day, it seems to come down to priorities. For Beamon, that is her choice on how to take care of her children.

“We don’t feel it’s the role of the school board or the superintendent to make mask mandates when Nebraska has no mask mandates right now and the governor has said he does not want schools to be masking or having mask mandates,” she said. “So we’re all kind of confused at why they are getting to make these decisions. And we don’t want them to have the ability to make those decisions.”

For Regan, it’s about keeping students in school.

“In regards to want a mask or not want a mask — I want, we want kids in school.”

The Nebraska Department of Education has outlined that it follows CDC recommendations, which includes the use of masks by students and school personnel.

The Gering school board will meet on Monday, Oct. 18, at the Gering City Council Chambers, at 6 p.m. 

Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Reporter

Olivia Wieseler is a reporter with the Star-Herald. She can be reached at 308-632-9051 or by emailing olivia.wieseler@starherald.com.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

Trending

Breaking News