School district extends mask mandate to all grade levels

Administrators – If COVID-19 levels remain ‘Orange 2,’ more measures could be on the way

By Traci Chapman

As the hours counted down Saturday to Mustang High School’s homecoming football game against Norman North High School, district administrators announced they were expanding a mask mandate to include all students.

The information was released Saturday afternoon; since school began in August, students attending 5th through 12th grades were required to wear facial coverings while in school and anytime they were on district properties, a requirement that also extended to all staff and any visitors allowed at those sites.

Information released Saturday by Mustang communications director Kirk Wilson stated that mandate – effective Monday – would pertain to all students, including those in PreK, kindergarten and throughout student populations at all of the district’s eight elementary schools.

Mustang Education Center also is home to several half-day preschool programs.

Superintendent Charles Bradley stated in the release the move was taken after administrators conferred Friday with Canadian County Health Department. According to data from Oklahoma State Department of Health, Canadian County now has moved in the COVID-19 alert level from yellow to “orange 2.”

Administrators would also monitor that data and information obtained Oct. 2 – and if cases continued to increase as they have in the area, meaning the county retained the orange 2 level or above, that could mean a significant change to how the fall semester moved forward, at least temporarily, the superintendent said.

“While we want to avoid any sudden changes, as those will more significantly impact our families, we must take action,” Bradley stated in the Saturday release.

Should Oct. 2 OSDH numbers not reflect a move back into the yellow threat level – or should district numbers that have been significantly increasing each week since Mustang began releasing the data not show improvement, he said, “the district will move to a modified schedule that could include a move to an A-B Schedule or a transition to Distance Learning.

“The decision on a modified schedule will be based on data and could be targeted for sites with particularly high numbers or for the entire District,” Bradley continued.

If that step became necessary, it would be done for a minimum three-week period, the superintendent said, “to avoid the whiplash of a back and forth scenario.”

Mustang High School implemented an A-B schedule at the beginning of the school year. Despite some backlash from parents – and initially even a few school board members – the system was credited by administrators as the only reason high school students could continue onsite classes at all.

Even with those measures, MHS remains – by a wide margin – the site with both the most cases and highest numbers of active quarantines and isolations. Friday’s report indicated 44 confirmed COVID-19 cases at the high school; 291 people there were actively quarantined as of Sept. 25. One hundred six total positive diagnoses of the novel coronavirus were reported districtwide, with 64 of those active; 773 total active quarantines were recorded for all school sites and administrative facilities as of Friday.

Of those, 514 were new quarantines, Wilson reported Friday. One district employee to date was reported to have died as a result of COVID-19 complications.

The Saturday announcement came on the heels of administrator’s concerns about the numbers released Friday – and where they believed they were coming from, Bradley said. Many cases brought into the district were due to activities off school grounds, the superintendent said.

“If behaviors don’t change, and change fast, our hopes of remaining in-person for instruction will be quickly dashed. Based on the trends, we are preparing for a transition to A-B for the whole District or even a transition to full Distance Learning; I cannot stress the importance of taking this more seriously for our entire community,” Bradley stated in the Friday release.

The reaction to both Friday’s and Saturday’s announcement was immediate – and vocal – with many people questioning the true danger of COVID-19, while others applauded the district for its proactive measures. However, several posters on Facebook and other social media sites questioned the decision to continue with football games, including the Saturday match-up with Norman North.

It was a game delayed from Friday to Saturday night due to COVID-19 concerns at Norman North; photos of attendees of games since the Broncos’ season began show a mixture of compliance with the district mask mandate – while some, sometimes many, have been seen wearing facial coverings, several either do not wear them at all or do so incorrectly, either down under their chins or below their nose, and packed student sections do not allow for social distancing.

Both facial coverings and social distancing are the primary steps necessary to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to both federal, state and local medical experts.

Mustang Times will cover this story in its entirety in next week’s print and online issues and will continue to provide updates as they are received.

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