Masks will be optional for all students in the Solon Springs School District when classes begin Sept. 1, according to a reopening plan the school board approved Monday, Aug. 16.

Students must still be masked when riding district transportation per federal mandate. Other safety measures include keeping students separated by 3 feet indoors when feasible and taking daily student temperature checks at the door.

The one-on-one contact the health screener has with students at the door has been a positive outcome of COVID-19 protocols, District Administrator Frank Helquist said.

Varying levels of quarantining will be developed by the school health screener. The district is also working with Douglas County to provide COVID-19 testing for students, staff and family members and bring a community vaccine clinic to the area. As with other school districts in the area, the board is poised to pivot swiftly if the COVID-19 situation in the area changes.

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Five community members spoke about the use of masks prior to the vote. Two requested that masks be required, three asked for them to be optional.

Chuck Walt, a longtime member of the Solon Springs Volunteer Fire Department, wore a mask because he’d been on a medical call two hours before the meeting.

“It’s not so much for me. I’ve been immunized. I don’t want to get COVID,” he said. “I don’t want to pass something on to anybody in this room that could make them sick or could kill them or could kill one of their children.”

While masks are inconvenient, science shows they reduce the spread of the virus.

“I don’t like masks, but the science says that they make a difference,” Walt said.

Solon Springs teacher Amanda Guttormson asked the board to make masks optional after seeing students and her own children struggle with focus and shortness of breath during a year of masking. It was hard on everyone, she said.

“Please let it be a choice.”

In other business, the board gave vocal music teacher Gretchen Molina the approval to move ahead with the fall musical, “Sister Act Junior,” pending additional information. With performances slated for November, the decision was time-sensitive.

Board members said controversy arose over language and sexual innuendo in the district’s 2019 musical, “Mama Mia!” Due to copyright laws, the school wasn’t able to change any of the wording. Community members raised concerns about the performances at the December 2019 school board meeting, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Helquist said. Board members said they would like Molina to provide more information on this year's production ahead of time.