Small group of students protest masks during walkout at Tonganoxie High

Some Tonganoxie High School students gather with adults Friday morning outside the THS east campus during a protest about wearing masks in USD 464 school buildings. Enlarge photo

September 24, 2021

A walk-out among Tonganoxie High School students protesting the current mask mandates inside USD 464 buildings brought about 35 of the school’s roughly 600 students Friday.

Roughly 65 adults and a smattering of younger children were outside the school’s main entrance Friday morning to greet the students. The protest started around 10 a.m. with students trickling out of the school.

Adults held signs and cheered on the students as they came out of the school. State Rep. Lance Neelly, R-Tonganoxie, spoke to the group as well, commending them for their actions.

The school district started the school year Aug. 19 with masks being optional, with the caveat that the protocol could change based on various criteria. With a surge in cases in Tonganoxie and the area in general in the coming days, Superintendent Loren Feldkamp announced through social media and other communications Aug. 22 that masks would be mandatory starting Aug. 23.

Masks have remained mandatory since then, with the policy continued at the regular school board meeting Sept. 13 that became heated at times as about 30 patrons against the mask mandate attended the meeting.

Feldkamp reiterated at the meeting that masks help keep students in school because they keep fewer students out of quarantine with current quarantine protocols.

Wellington, in south-central Kansas, started the year with masks being optional and then shut down all school district buildings for about 10 days due to an COVID-19 outbreak. Rock Creek schools in Pottawatomie County near Manhattan and Hesston Middle School and Halstead High School in Harvey County near McPherson also temporarily closed schools recently due to outbreaks. Those districts do not require masking.

Rural Vista School District near Council Grove canceled classes from Sept. 3-13 and St. John-Hudson in central Kansas closed from Sept. 13-17 due to rising numbers and a shortage of staff and available substitute teachers, according to a story by Noah Taborda with the Kansas Reflector.

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