By CRISTINA JANNEY
A Hays High School student presented a petition signed by 129 Hays High students and staff in favor of continued mask wearing at the school during the USD 489 school board meeting Monday night.
During the public comment session, senior Skylar Zimmerman gave a short speech supporting mask use at the school.
"I along with many other students at Hays High support the wearing of masks in school, and here's why," he said.
"Last spring when our schools closed and we went to remote learning, it was a frustrating experience for many of us. I missed my friends. I missed my teachers, and I missed many school events.
"My wish for my senior year is to be in school because its the best way to learn. I believe if we all wear masks, practice good hygiene and maintain physical distancing, we will be able to keep our staff and student body safe."
Zimmerman said if he had more time, he believed he would have been able to collect more signatures.
Zimmerman was the one speaker during the public comment session. No one spoke against USD 489's requirement that all students and staff wear masks at school.
Masks have been an issue of debate in Hays in recent months. People who were against the city's mask mandate protested outside of the Aug. 27 city commission meeting. At that meeting on a vote of 3-2, the commission renewed its mask ordinance through Oct. 5.
One anti-mask speaker was escorted out of that city meeting by Hays Police Chief Don Scheibler.
The Ellis school board ultimately decided to follow the governor's mandate.
The Ellis County Commission has not implemented a mask mandate in the county.
Superintendent Ron Wilson said the county is not where it would like to be in terms of its COVID-19 positive rate. The county's two-week positive rate was 14.6 percent on Monday, but is trending downward.
Wilson said all schools in the district have dealt with some issue with COVID. However, he said the percent positive among students is less than 1 percent — much lower than the county rate.
He said he would like to see the county positive rate reach less than 5 percent.
"I know those numbers are scary, but I think it is important to look at what is behind those numbers," Wilson said.
Wilson thanked the Hays Middle School staff for pivoting quickly to online learning last week after positive cases among the staff forced the school to move to remote learning for a week.
Students were back in person on Monday.
Wilson also thanked teachers and staff for all their hard work.
"I heard this consistently they are in this together and they are ready and willing to do whatever they can to keep kids in school," Wilson said.
He added,"It is so uplifting to see how hard our staff is working just to make everything work. We have a very strong culture in this district right now, and I don't know if there is anything that we can't withstand. We are going to get through this. They have been really amazing."
Board member Lance Bickle said he wanted to echo the Wilson's statements of support for staff.
He also expressed support for the student who presented the petition.
"I think it is refreshing to hear sometimes that our kids are troopers and unfortunately us adults get out of hand sometimes in some of our thoughts and beliefs," he said.
"I think the kids have been very resilient and have shown, whether its masks or whatever else, they want to stay in school, so they are going to do what it takes to make it work. To that, I applaud them."