Students will be exempt from the Parsons ordinance requiring masks in public spaces as long as they are following school policy.

The Parsons City Commission on Monday approved an amendment on a 4-0 vote that exempts children 5 and younger from wearing masks in buildings accessible by the public. The amendment also exempts primary and secondary students from the law as long as the school they are attending allows them to forgo wearing masks.

The age exemption for young children was added because it’s not safe for children 2 and under to wear masks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and also because of the difficulty in keeping masks on young children. Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order requiring masks in public exempted children 5 and younger, although most counties opted out of the order anyway. City Attorney Ross Albertini said he just overlooked the age exemption when creating the ordinance.

Commissioner Leland Crooks requested consideration of the school exemption, so Albertini later created language to add to the amendment creating the exemption for children 5 and younger.

Crooks said the Parsons USD 503 board members he has spoken to about the ordinance said they wanted the authority to allow children to go unmasked.

There has been some concern about the ability of teachers and principals to ensure younger students are keeping their masks in place. Although they could start the year with a mask requirement, schools may decide it’s not feasible.

“They need to have the control of their classrooms. I completely agree with them, and I’m confident that they will do the right thing and do it as well as possible,” Crooks said.

Crooks said administrators could be held liable for children not following the mask requirement and potentially be fined under the city’s ordinance without the change.

Crooks said he is concerned about schools reopening this semester while the COVID-19 pandemic continues without a vaccine, but schools are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Parsons USD 503 has delayed the start of the school year until Aug. 26, though the board met on Tuesday and revisited the start date.

Perez asked where the commission should draw the line on the mask ordinance.

“Where are we going to stop?” he said.

Crooks said the schools should be the last exemption. Perez said he hopes that the city’s educators are as serious about trying to stop the spread of the coronavirus as he is, and Crooks said they are. Perez said he could agree to the exemption with caution, but he will be quick to act again to reverse the decision if cases spike at schools. He noted that the school board consists of elected officials, just like the commission.

Commissioner Kevin Cruse said his daughter is a teacher in Wichita and has received seven or eight pages of guidelines specific to the pandemic, including how to set up classrooms and how students will interact.

“I don’t know what our school district’s done, but I’m sure they have done what needs to be to make sure children are safe,” Cruse said.

Teachers and other adults in the school system are still mandated by the ordinance to wear masks.

Perez asked if other cities with mask ordinances also have made a school exemption. Albertini hasn’t heard of any such exemptions, but he hasn’t studied other ordinances since the Parsons ordinance was passed.

Commissioners Crooks, Cruse, Perez and Verlyn Bolinger voted in favor of the exemptions. Commissioner Tom Shaw was not in attendance.

Also on Monday, Police Chief Robert Spinks said the police department had recently received two more complaints of individuals violating the mask ordinance. By the time police had arrived, the two had left.

Spinks also said the city is getting a price for a modification to the police department’s website, www.parsonspd.com, to allow a link to the COVID-19 information page on the home page. The city also is working on placing the COVID-19 information link to the city’s website, www.parsonsks.com.

Spinks said Assistant Police Chief Dennis Dodd is visiting with businesses that are not in compliance with the mask ordinance. The first visit went surprisingly well, Spinks said, and he hopes other visits also will change the minds of noncompliant businesses. Businesses and other organizations in town that have buildings open to the public are required to post signs at their entrances stating that masks are required by city ordinance. They also need to require masks for employees working in public spaces or where social distancing is not possible.

In other business Monday the commissioners:

— Approved the closure of North 18th Street from Main Street to Washington Avenue from 6 to 11 p.m. Aug. 21 for the annual Moonlight Madness downtown sales event sponsored by the Parsons Chamber of Commerce. There will be food vendors and a DJ set up on the street during the event.

— Agreed to allow Labette Community College to use the northwest corner of Forest Park for a zip line for a back-to-school event from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 18.

— Approved payment of $727,532.11 to Heckert Construction Co., Pittsburg, for work on the city’s annual street resurfacing project. City Manager Debbie Lamb said Heckert had planned to resurface Main Street from 21st through the railroad underpass on Monday, but the work has been pushed back to either Friday or Monday of next week. The street has been torn up for several days. Lamb also said the city had originally planned to pour concrete in the underpass to slow erosion around the stormwater grates. Now, the city plans to resurface the underpass with an enhanced asphalt expected to last 10 years at almost half of the cost of concrete. A change order will be presented to the commission for the additional asphalt laid by Heckert. The city staff also plans to have Heckert resurface the 1400 block of Appleton. The asphalt in one spot on the north side of the road was being pushed up, creating a bump. Additionally, the city will have Heckert pour asphalt for the tie-in on a Morgan Avenue rebuilding project at 15th Street.

— Approved payment of $83,430.26 to Heck & Wicker Construction Inc., Parsons, for work completed on the 16th Street (U.S. 59) project that includes new concrete surfacing, stormwater drainage improvements and the widening of the Main and 16th intersection to add left-turn lanes. Darrell Moyer, director of public works and engineering, told the commissioners that originally the side streets involved in the project were supposed to get an asphalt overlay on the approach to 16th. It turned out it is close to $10,000 cheaper for the approaches to be replaced with concrete because of the small amount of asphalt that would be involved. The Kansas Department of Transportation is paying for all of the construction costs on the project through corridor access management plan funding.

— Approved a bid from Downing Sales and Service for $19,460 for 25 dumpsters of three different sizes.

— Approved the use of the Marvel Park parking lot from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 25 and Nov. 1 for the local Knights of Columbus’ annual turkey shoot.

— Heard from Jim Zaleski, economic development director, that two more parties interested in the purchase of the former Curious Minds Discovery Zone building, 1810 Main, have toured the building, bringing the total to five. The city owns the building and plans to sell it to someone based on the proposed use of the building and the price offered. Zaleski said there is interest in the building from a service business, a retailer, a nonprofit and an investor who wants to rent it as retail space.

— Heard from Zaleski that the city plans to spend $57,000 of its share of money distributed by Labette County from a federal relief bill on reimbursement for personal protection equipment and video conferencing fees related to the pandemic. The remaining $193,000 would be spent on future PPE purchases, sick time for employees who have to quarantine, public barriers for certain city offices, a touchless keypad four fuel distribution and connectivity-related costs such as improving the resolution of commission meeting videos and uploading request forms for the public online to reduce in-person contact.

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