Calling masks “disruptive and divisive” in the school environment, at least one Kansas school district made masks optional for the final weeks of the year. Wearing a face covering is optional in Goddard, USD 265 schools, as of Monday, May 17.

“Throughout the pandemic, the district has stayed focused on providing consistent learning opportunities for all students in multiple platforms,” a statement issued by the district reads. The statement notes revised CDC guidelines suggesting vaccinated individuals no longer need to mask “created a disruptive and divisive school environment”  for students and staff. Other mitigation strategies will remain in place through May 27 in the Goddard schools near Wichita.

There’s no central clearinghouse tracking the statewide data, but a quick internet search reveals some schools never instituted mandates. And others are slowly repealing them.  

Some of Kansas’s largest districts, however, are unrelenting in child masking, and none of them will show how they determine that the benefits of masking are greater than the medical, educational, and emotional consequences of mask mandates. That’s despite outcry from parents and evolving guidelines from federal, state, and local health officials. For instance, Johnson County health officials eliminated mask mandates in public spaces at the end of April. But the county health director sent a letter to Johnson County school districts requesting they continue child masking.

Blue Valley masks kids on advice of someone who isn’t an MD

“The county’s public health orders have changed, but the situation in schools has not: students younger than 16 years old are not eligible to be vaccinated and because we have students back fully in person, physical distancing of 6-feet is not possible,” Samni Areola, director of Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, wrote in the letter. “…Masking is a critical element of student and staff safety under these conditions.”

Areola’s LinkedIn profile shows he is not a medical doctor; he has a Bachelor’s degree in animal science and a Ph.D. in environmental toxicology.  Interestingly, the Blue Valley district refused to grant a medical exemption to its mask mandate because the evidence didn’t come from a medical doctor, but the district imposes restrictions on the advice of someone who isn’t a medical doctor.

At least one district ignored part of Areola’s recommendation. The Gardner-Edgerton district lifted the mask mandate for kids in pre-school through the 6th grade for PE and recess effective May 3.

Meanwhile, Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission schools resist calls to repeal mandates in their buildings. Several dozen people protested at a Shawnee Mission School District school board meeting on Monday night. They rallied with signs calling masking “psychological child abuse” and “medical tyranny” before heading into the building to address the board.

“‘Take these masks off our children and let them breathe’ aren’t cute little phrases we say and put on our signs,” Kristin Butler, a parent, told Blue Valley board members.

She said her daughter is sent home once or twice a week due to headaches, dizziness, and shortness of breath.

“No one checked her oxygen saturation. She wasn’t allowed to remove her mask in the nurse’s office while she waited for her mom to pick her up,” Butler said. “…I will not stand by when my kid is suffering anymore. The mask mandate is over for me and my children. I make the medical decisions for my children.”

State Senator calls masks ineffective

State Sen. Mike Thompson, a Shawnee Republican, told the board countless parents emailed and contacted him at his Senate office about school mask mandates. He said masks are ineffective at preventing the spread of COVID because the virus is so small.

“Think of it this way. I’m about 6-feet-tall. Saying this mask is going to block the virus is like saying I can’t walk through a doorway 6,000 feet tall and 2,000 feet wide. That I’m going to bump into walls and it’s going to prevent me from getting through that doorway,” he said. “That’s how tiny the virus is.”

The Shawnee Mission School Board attempted to shut down a final few speakers on Monday night. After a small outcry, the board relented and allowed an extra 6 minutes of public comment. But at least the Shawnee Mission board met in person.

The Blue Valley School Board moved a meeting last week online saying they received threats, but the district has yet to provide any evidence of the supposed threats. Despite the virtual meeting, more than four dozen parents protested outside the district office buildings. Many there testified before the board via ZOOM on a shared laptop.

Several neighboring school districts, like Louisburg, and in Missouri, Blue Springs, and Lee’s Summit, made masks optional after the Centers for Disease Control announced last week that vaccinated individuals no longer need to mask. The CDC also recently announced masking outdoors is unnecessary.

Approximately 43% of Johnson County residents are vaccinated, according to the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment dashboard, and about 2% of kids. The FDA only recently approved one vaccine for kids ages 12-17.

Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission boards aren’t relenting on their mask mandates. Neither board opted to put the mask mandates on their last meeting agendas. With about a week left, their students remain masked with no word on plans for next year.

“We have 14 days to go in the school year and are focused on getting through the school year and finishing strong,” Blue Valley School Board President Amy Tysseling said during the May 10 meeting.

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