JENKS — Despite loud objections from audience members, Jenks Public Schools’ Board of Education voted unanimously at a special meeting Thursday evening to approve a temporary mask requirement for students, staff and visitors.
As approved, Jenks staff, students and visitors will be required to wear masks while inside district buildings and while riding school buses starting Tuesday.
An opt-out form was added to the district’s website Thursday night for families seeking an exemption on religious, medical or personal grounds. An opt-out form for Jenks employees will be made available through the district’s Human Resources Department.
“Our goal, no matter what you think about masks, is to have our kids in person in school,” school board Vice President Melissa Abdo said. “To that end, I view the temporary mask requirement as one of many things we’re doing in order to make that happen as long as possible.
“Does it guarantee anything? No. Does it guarantee that we won’t have people getting sick or hospitalized? No. There are no guarantees, but I believe where we are as a community, we have to at least try.”
According to the district’s most recent COVID-19 case count update, released last Friday afternoon, Jenks Public Schools had 131 reported cases among students and staff. The district does not publish data on close-contact exposures.
The board’s vote was taken before a largely unmasked audience of about 50 people. All but one of the speakers during the public comment period objected to the proposed mask requirement, prompting cheers from the audience.
“There are obviously a lot of nonmaskers here, and I’m betting they opt out,” parent Rebecca Goodman said. “So then what’s the point? If you have this many kids whose parents opt out, … what’s the point? We’ll be right back to where we are now.
“My freedoms shouldn’t end where your fear begins.”
Despite multiple requests from school board President Terry Keeling for order, several attendees shouted their disappointment at the board and district officials during the course of the meeting.
Discussion among board members about the mask mandate’s opt-out provisions prompted shouts of “Why bother?” from the audience and calls for the district to instead implement an opt-in policy for masking.
One woman was escorted out of the room by campus police after she attempted to start a “Shame on you” chant aimed at board members and district officials during their discussion of the proposal.
“I hope you all get voted out,” she shouted while being led out. “Every last one of you! Shame on you!”
Jenks’ vote came about 24 hours after an Oklahoma County District Court judge filed a temporary injunction blocking enforcement of Senate Bill 658, which prohibits public school districts from requiring masks on campus unless a state of emergency is declared by the governor. Gov. Kevin Stitt has said publicly multiple times that he has no intention of making such a declaration.
The temporary injunction allows districts to require masks as long as they provide some of the same exemptions for face coverings that are already in place for vaccinations, including religious and medical grounds, for children attending public schools.
Other eastern Oklahoma public school districts currently requiring masks on campus include Briggs, Glenpool, Hulbert, Keys, McAlester and Tulsa. Tahlequah Public Schools voted Wednesday night to require masks on campus starting Monday, while Union Public Schools’ Board of Education is set to consider a mask requirement Friday at noon.
Ponca City Public Schools’ board approved a mask requirement Thursday that is set to take effect on Friday.