February 24, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Salina parents object to the district’s COVID segregation policy

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Salina Public Schools have maintained they do not have an exclusion policy for students who are either unvaccinated or who have religious or health exemptions from school mask policies.

In an Open Records request pursuant to an investigation into such policies by the Kriegshauser Ney Law Group, USD 305 categorically denied such a policy exists.

“The District does not have a quarantine or exclusion policy. Whether students are quarantined or isolated due to COVID-19 is a decision made solely by the [Saline County Health Department],” the district wrote in a Kansas Open Records Act response.

However, emails from parents to the SPS Board of Education belie that statement.

One parent wrote in an email to the district asking if their children still needed to be segregated from other students because of a religious mask exemption.

The parent noted that two of their students are doing well, but their first grader has been “psychologically stressed” in their classroom.

“She used to love school and now she tells me she hates it and never wants to go,” the parent wrote “I can tell she does not feel accepted in her first-grade class.”

The parent stated that their kindergartener would also benefit from “Learning alongside the other kindergarteners instead of being stuck at the table with the charging station for all the chrome books.”

Mental health issues have plagued school children throughout the pandemic and have often been overlooked in the name of “safety.”

That email was dated January 15 of this year. In a later email dated January 21, the parent noted that the segregation had been lifted — one day after the district responded to the Kriegshauser group’s records request denying such a segregation policy existed.

“After almost 5 months of sitting alone in school,” the parent wrote in the email. “My four kids get to be reintegrated back into their classes today and learn with their friends again.”

Another parent, in an email to the board dated Jan. 19, 2022, stated their student, who needed early speech intervention, suffered from being masked their kindergarten year and the parent obtained a mask exemption.

However, two weeks later, the parent states the principal informed them that their children would be forced to sit at a different table, six feet at minimum from other students.

The parent noted after the segregation their daughter was devastated and had to restart speech therapy.

“She lost the sparkle in her eyes. Forgot how to smile. Her school work has become sloppy,” the parent wrote. “The sweet, bubbly, excited little girl who made it a point to learn everyone’s name lost her flame and motivation to go to school. She tells me she hates school now and ever wants to go.”

This policy apparently has now been rescinded — despite claims that it does not exist — shortly after the Kriegshauser group began gathering information.

‘Secret’ organization setting policy for Salina district?

As part of the investigation, the Kriegshauser group also demanded any communication with the district’s Medical Advisory Group, any minutes, meeting notes, public notices of meetings, and attendance rosters — among other things.

The district claimed such documents did not exist, stating: “The group referenced in the December 14, 2021 Board meeting is not a group convened or otherwise appointed by the Board of Education. The ‘group’ is simply a reference to some individual local medical providers who assist the Superintendent with research and application of the COVID-19 guidance coming from KDHE, the CDC and other medical sources. The ‘group’ does not make decisions for the Board or the District. The ‘group’ is, therefore not a subordinate body subject to the Kansas Open Meetings Act.”

Despite claiming the “group” was not a subordinate body, SPS then — in the “interest of transparency” provided minutes of the 2021 meetings — but redacted the names of half the members, claiming names were “Personal information of private individuals not subject to disclosure.

“We are almost two years into this pandemic, and there is no reason for the Salina school district to hide records from parents and taxpayers of the district at this point,” Joshua Ney of the Kriegshauser Ney Group said. “Parents and citizens need the full story regarding student segregation and the make-up and operations of this secret advisory group that at one point advocated for students to wear goggles and masks to class.”

Legal action possible

The firm sent another demand letter on Feb. 7, reasserting KORA over any documents related to segregation policies, and the makeup of the USD 305 Salina Medical Advisory Group.  The district’s attempt to withhold public information was rather sloppy; they neglected to redact the names later in the minutes. But since the names of who was speaking were redacted it was unclear whom was making what recommendation.

“You have shown that the membership of the ‘Medical Advisory Group’ is not an invasion of privacy by producing the unredacted names in the documents you provided. Accordingly, any assertion of ‘privacy’ has been waived,” the letter reads.

Ney said that if the requested documents are not produced forthwith, legal action will follow. 

“The Medical Advisory Group has directly influenced the policies affecting children and their parents over the past two years, and there is no reason the public should be kept in the dark,” he said. “We fully intend to litigate the district’s redactions and withheld documents in court if the district does disclose the full records immediately. “

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