Though the atmosphere mirrored a pep rally leading to a big game, the more than 400 “let them play” protesters who gathered at the Blue Valley School District administration building on Thursday afternoon weren’t looking for a win on the field or the court. Instead, the parents and student-athletes rallied in hopes the school board would host a special meeting and allow sports and school activities.

Organizers and activists used a bullhorn to address the large crowd.

“They’re trying to bubble wrap your kids,” Brian Connell, a parent, said.

Parents and teachers rally at Blue Valley district headquarters

Thursday’s rally in Overland Park was one of a handful of “let them play” rallies that have taken place across the state. Wichita parents and students hosted a rally on Monday. Gardner-Edgerton School District patrons held a similar event on Thursday.

Blue Valley School District officials are using gating criteria created by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to determine when and if students can return to school and participate in school activities. KDHE’s gating criteria doesn’t allow for school activities until the local county has a two-week positive case rate below 5%.

Connell and other parents say kids are safer when they’re in the classroom or on the field. Connell said school sports are the reason his son, Brennan, is alive today. In 2019, the Olathe West baseball player collapsed on the pitching mound during a game. He was in sudden cardiac arrest but was revived by trained coaching staff and teachers who used an AED to revive him.

“Schools save lives,” Connell said. “Teachers save lives.”

The “Let Them Play” rally organizers collected signatures for a petition they will present to the school board. Attendees expressed frustration that elected school board members aren’t listening to the community, and they say the gating criteria being used is unreasonable.

“If we’re voting for them, why is the board not listening?” Brett Black, a Blue Valley Southwest parent, asked.

When USD 229 parents enrolled their students in Blue Valley schools back in July, they registered for in-person, virtual, or hybrid education models. Approximately 73 percent of parents said they wanted in-person learning. At a board meeting in early August, school officials said the in-person learning would only occur if health officials believed it to be a safe option. That’s when the board opted to use the state’s gating criteria to determine when it would be safe to allow all students back into the classroom and onto the playing fields.

Health officials determine the two-week COVID positivity rate by averaging the number of positive COVID tests over a 14-day period. Dr. Christine White, a Johnson County pediatrician, told the board that the COVID positivity rate is artificially high. Most of the people tested are showing symptoms, so the data is skewed.

As of August 26, Johnson County had a 10.6% 14-day positivity rate and a 7.7% cumulative positivity rate. More randomized tests in other places are showing lower positivity rates. For instance, the University of Kansas tested 19,452 students and faculty and found 222 positive cases — a positivity rate of 1.14 percent.

Michael Austin, the director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Government for Kansas Policy Institute, which owns the Sentinel, notes that Kansas is testing far fewer people than other states, and mostly testing those who are already showing symptoms.

“Like a radio host polling his fan mail to see if they like the show, Kansas is placing an over-reliance on tests of those with a reasonable suspicion they already have COVID,” he said. “This statistic under-represents the community at large and should not be the basis of any re-opening policy.”

(Editor’s note: The Sentinel welcomes Danedri Herbert back to the team)

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